Jefferson Park Man Spent Night in Jail After Harassment Campaign Led by Police Brass, Misconduct Agency Finds

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

A Jefferson Park man spent a night in jail in November 2018 after being subjected to “an improper campaign of harassment” after criticizing a Far Northwest Side business group on Facebook for their response to the conviction of a White Chicago police officer for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald, a Black teen, according to evidence gathered by the agency charged with investigating police misconduct.

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The probe by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability concluded that two Chicago police lieutenants, including one who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Chicago City Council, “may have directed an improper campaign of harassment against (Pete Czosnyka) in retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights.”

A longtime resident of Jefferson Park and a retired engineer, Czosnyka said he knew he was risking retaliation by speaking out against the leaders of what he calls “cop land” on the Far Northwest Side. Many residents of Jefferson Park work for the city, the police department or the fire department.

“My house is paid off and I’m retired,” Czosnyka said, adding that he never doubted that his constitutional rights had been violated by the Chicago Police Department. “I’m best person to do this.”

The arrest would not be Czosnyka’s only run-in with local leaders.

Facebook Post Leads to Arrest

Czosnyka was arrested Nov. 14, 2018, on suspicion of cyberstalking and harassment as he left a community meeting about plans to redevelop the massive Sears department store at Six Corners, near Irving Park Road, Cicero and Milwaukee avenues, into apartments, records show.

The 71-year-old Czosnyka was never charged with a crime, according to the final report from the agency known as COPA, when it closed the probe prompted by the complaint filed by Czosnyka on March 12, 2019. It is unclear why the probe took 1,663 days to complete, but the first interviews in the investigation did not take place until October 2021 and the final interviews documented in the report took place in March 2022.

Czosnyka’s name was redacted from the copy of the report released COPA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that was obtained by WTTW News. However, Czosnyka identified himself as the complainant in an interview with WTTW News. The probe was closed Sept. 30, records show.

A frequent critic of Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th Ward) and his ally Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) on social media, Czosnyka also has filed complaints with the inspector general and the Board of Ethics as well as lawsuits. Neither alderperson was investigated by COPA in connection with Czosnyka’s arrest, although COPA investigators reviewed a deposition Gardiner gave in a civil lawsuit. Czosnyka was a plaintiff in that case.

While he was arrested on Nov. 14, 2018, the series of events that led to Czosnyka’s arrest that day began on Oct. 10, 2018, five days after now-former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014.

Czosnyka attended a vigil for the slain teen organized by a Norwood Park church and was frustrated to see several vehicles near the event display pro-police messages while patrons of a nearby bar attempted to disrupt the gathering with loud noise.

On Oct. 28, 2018, a post on the Facebook page maintained by the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce thanked Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido and 41st Ward Ald. Anthony Napolitano, a former police officer and firefighter who also supported Gardiner, for organizing the display of pro-police signs and messages.

Czosnyka responded to that post and admonished the chamber for “engaging in white supremacist actions by tying blue ribbons” around trees in a nearby park and for sponsoring an event designed to encourage law enforcement officers to drink at the nearby bar the in the hopes of disrupting the vigil, according to COPA’s report.

On Nov. 1, 2018, Jim Prah, who was at the time a police sergeant, and other officers went to Czosnyka’s home and asked him to come with them to the police station. Czosnyka declined when they failed to produce a warrant. As the officers left, one of the officers said to another “this is a John Garrido caper,” according to the COPA report.

Then on Nov. 10, Cook County Sherriff’s deputies served Czosnyka with an order of protection obtained by an employee of the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce, citing his post on the organization’s Facebook page. Two days later, two Chicago police officers returned to Czosnyka’s home and asked to speak with him. Czosnyka was not home, according to the COPA report.

Czosnyka, who was then 66, was arrested four days later, after leaving a community meeting. He was taken into custody at 8:26 p.m. Nov. 14, 2018, and released at 7:39 p.m. Nov. 15, 2018, according to COPA’s report.

“It was just a little cold down there,” Czosnyka said, adding that he slept on concrete and turned down a bologna sandwich for dinner. “It wasn’t too bad.”

The Chicago Board of Ethics fined Gardiner $20,000 on Oct. 16 for retaliating against Czosnyka by directing a city employee to issue “unfounded citations” in September 2019 that could have forced Czosnyka to pay more than $600 in fines.

In addition, a federal judge ruled Sept. 25 that Gardiner violated the First Amendment by blocking six critics from his official Facebook page in 2021, including Czosnyka. Gardiner now faces a trial to determine whether he should pay those critics’ damages.

COPA Report Findings

COPA’s report found evidence that Prah and Garrido, both former police lieutenants, may have “directed their subordinate CPD members to locate and arrest” Czosnyka, despite the fact that his Facebook posts were protected speech under the First Amendment.

However, by the time COPA’s investigators reached that conclusion, nearly five years after Czosnyka spent a night in jail, both Prah and Garrido had left the department, forcing COPA to close the probe without action.

“In the event that either Lt. Prah or Lt. Garrido return to CPD employment, this matter will be reopened for additional investigation,” according to COPA’s report.

Czosnyka said it was “awful” that Chicago Police officials allowed Prah and Garrido to retire before completing the probe into their actions.

Prah told WTTW News that he had no recollection of Czosnyka’s arrest.

Garrido told WTTW News in an email that COPA’s report contains “no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing on my part” and criticized the news organization for reporting on the report.

“After a five-year investigation and interviewing all parties involved, except for the accused, COPA’s determination that I ‘potentially,’ “may’ have done something wrong amounts to a typically lazy investigation that you now plan to report as ‘news’ for some unknown reason,” Garrido wrote. “To be clear, I have never and would never harass or retaliate against anyone for exercising their First Amendment rights.”  

Garrido ran to represent the Far Northwest Side’s 45th Ward on the Chicago City Council in 2011 and again in 2015. Both times, he lost to former Ald. John Arena. In 2019, Garrido supported Gardiner, who ousted Arena from office, and was reelected in April.

Czosnyka supported Arena in that race, which centered on Arena’s efforts to expand the number of affordable housing units in Jefferson Park.

In all, Garrido has run unsuccessfully four times for public office, including a 2010 bid as a Republican for president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners and a 2020 a bid as a Democrat to become a Cook County judge.

After leaving CPD, Garrido frequently appeared on local news programs, often blasting Democratic officials for their response to crime and violence. In September, he testified during a hearing organized by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to spotlight crime in Chicago.

During his remarks, Garrido criticized Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signing into law a measure designed to reform the state’s criminal justice system that ended the system of cash bail and said it would make the city less safe.

Multiple Investigations of Gardiner

The Chicago City Council agreed last month to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested at Gardiner’s request after finding a cell phone that belonged to a close associate of the alderperson, records show. That associate is now facing charges he tried to sell an illegal machine gun while working for the city.

Gardiner has been accused of leaking improperly obtained court records that showed James Suh, a frequent critic who ran against him, had been charged with unlawful use of a weapon in 2008. Suh helped organize a protest of Gardiner for blocking the approval of a proposed development near Six Corners in Portage Park.

The Cook County Circuit Court Clerk requested that the office’s watchdog probe how Gardiner got those records.

WTTW News reported in September 2021 that federal agents are probing whether Gardiner took bribes and demanded payments before taking official actions. He has not been charged.

In January, the Board of Ethics asked the inspector general to probe allegations Gardiner harassed a group of people collecting petition signatures for one of his opponents in November.

Gardiner also apologized in September 2021 for sending profane and misogynistic texts to a former aide about former Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) and two women who work at City Hall.

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

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