Lightfoot Defends Decision Not to Fire Chicago Police Officer Who Lied About Ties to Proud Boys

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended on Tuesday the decision by Chicago Police Supt. David Brown not to fire an officer who lied about his ties to the far-right Proud Boys extremist group.

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Instead, the officer, who was not identified in a report released Friday by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg in keeping with the city’s rules, was suspended for 120 days. 

The probe conducted by the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs documented the officer’s ties to the Proud Boys, labeled by the FBI as an antisemitic white supremacy organization.

Lightfoot campaigned for mayor in 2019 on a promise to restore the public’s trust in the beleaguered Police Department, which has faced decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality. 

When Lightfoot was asked a question from WTTW News Tuesday about whether the decision by police leaders not to fire an officer who lied about his ties to the Proud Boys would make it impossible for Chicagoans to trust the Chicago Police Department, given that the Proud Boys are an antisemitic, anti-gay, far-right group whose leaders have been charged with sedition in connection to the Jan. 6 insurrection, she responded that the question included “an overstatement.” 

The officer was “thoroughly investigated” and “given a lengthy period of suspension,” Lightfoot said, adding that as mayor she was not involved with the details of that discipline.

“It is about accountability,” Lightfoot said at her first news conference in 27 days after an unrelated event. “I think the police department took the steps that the evidence that was gathered through the course of the two investigations warranted.”

Cesar Rodriguez, the mayor's press secretary, later said in a statement to WTTW News Wednesday morning that Lightfoot “is committed to continuing to ensure police accountability as we work to build trust between the [Chicago Police Department] and the communities it serves.” 

“The mayor has been clear: there is no place in our police department — or any other city department, for that matter — for white supremacists or other extremist ideology,” Rodriguez said.

Representatives of the Chicago Police Department did not respond to questions from WTTW News about why Supt. David Brown did not seek the officer’s termination even after the probe documented his ties to the Proud Boys, labeled by the FBI as an antisemitic white supremacy organization.

The officer, who has not been charged with a crime, could not be reached for comment by WTTW News. He earns $95,586 annually, according to the city’s website.

John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 7, which represents the officer, did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

Police investigators initally recommended that the officer be suspended for five days for “failing to submit a written report explaining that they were under investigation by the FBI,” according to the report.

However, former Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended in November 2020 that that probe be reopened because the investigation was “materially deficient” and failed to determine whether the officer “made inconsistent statements to the FBI and (Chicago Police Department Bureau of Internal Affairs) and brought discredit upon the (Chicago Police Department) by virtue of their involvement with the Proud Boys,” according to the report.

Police leaders agreed to reopen the probe, but it “does not appear to have revisited the original allegations,” as recommended by the inspector general, according to the report.

Instead, the department filed five new allegations against the officer, including that they made a false statement about attending a “Proud Boy barbecue” and brought discredit on the Chicago Police Department by “expressing support for a Proud Boy member’s actions in online forums” and by “participating in Proud Boy online forums,” according to the report.

That probe determined the officer made a “a false statement” during the course of the investigation when asked if they attended a Proud Boy sponsored barbecue and made a “a contradicting statement” during a recorded interview about his participation in a group chat with members of the Proud Boys, according to the report.

The department and the officer agreed to resolve those charges with a mediation agreement that prevented the officer from contesting the charges in return for a 120-day suspension.

However, the inspector general urged Brown to consider terminating the officer because they violated departmental rules prohibiting the making of false reports. Brown did not respond to that recommendation, and approved the 120-day suspension.

Several current and former members of the Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.

A former leader of the group pleaded guilty Oct. 6 and agreed to cooperate with the government’s ongoing investigation.

Note: This story was updated Oct. 19 at 10:30 a.m. with further comment from the mayor’s office and at 3 p.m. to clarify the full exchange between Lightfoot and WTTW News.  

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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