Top Cop Defends Investigation Into Officers for Ties to Proud Boys and Oath Keepers That Won’t Lead to Discipline

Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling speaks at a news conference May 3, 2024. (WTTW News)Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling speaks at a news conference May 3, 2024. (WTTW News)

Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling on Friday defended the Chicago Police Department’s most recent investigation into several police officers with documented ties to far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers, the third to end without any of the officers being disciplined.

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Six months ago, Snelling promised the Chicago City Council’s Budget Committee that he would rid the Chicago Police Department of officers with ties to hate groups and far-right extremist organizations after “stringent” and “thorough” investigations. 

However, none of the allegations examined by the Bureau of Internal Affairs were sustained, and the investigation has been closed, as first reported by WTTW News Thursday afternoon.

Police officials published the full investigatory report on the Chicago Police Department’s website late Friday afternoon.

“I can tell you that we have reached out to everyone, our internal affairs division has reached out to everyone, to gather information to determine if these officers were actually proven to be members of hate groups,” Snelling said. “So that information will be there for everyone to read.”

Snelling also invited Inspector General Deborah Witzburg to examine the probe and “give us feedback.”

Under city ordinance, Witzburg has the authority to ask the Bureau of Internal Affairs to reopen investigations she determines were lacking in rigor or were incomplete.

In October 2022, CPD brass rejected a recommendation from Witzburg to fire an officer who lied about his ties to the far-right Proud Boys extremist group. Instead, that officer served a 120-day suspension.

In January, police brass rejected a separate recommendation from Witzburg to terminate an officer who admitted belonging to the Oath Keepers.

Both officers remain on active duty with the CPD, with each earning more than $100,000 annually, according to a city database.

During the probe closed in January, the Chicago Police Department officer “admitted to being a former member of the Oath Keepers, having joined in 2010 or 2011 and having been a member for three to four years,” according to the inspector general’s report.

Despite that, department officials closed the probe finding that the allegation was “not sustained” even though the officer admitted belonging to an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s best-known civil rights organizations, considers to be a “far-right anti-government group.”

Snelling’s remarks came in the questions portion of a news conference alongside Mayor Brandon Johnson and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Friday morning to announce first-degree murder charges against a 22-year-old man in connection with the death of Chicago police Officer Luis Huesca.

Johnson did not directly answer a question from WTTW News about whether the decision by police officials to close the probe without disciplining any of the officers involved would make it more difficult for Chicagoans to trust the Chicago Police Department. The Proud Boys is an antisemitic, anti-gay, far-right group; the Oath Keepers has advocated for the U.S. government to be overthrown.

Members of both groups participated in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, and leaders of both groups have been convicted of seditious conspiracy.

Snelling called it “misleading” to tie the probe into Chicago police officers’ ties with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to Jan. 6, saying the probe started “before Jan. 6.” However, the probe CPD officials said on Thursday had been closed without disciplinary action began in October, nearly three years after the insurrection.

Johnson referred to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys as “unconscionable hate groups” and pledged to do “additional research” into the issue, but acknowledged that there are “very few courses of action that can be taken” if investigators do not gather evidence of wrongdoing by the officers.

Johnson praised Snelling for being “very intentional” about “paying attention to individuals who are bad actors who have displayed reprehensible behavior.”

During the 2023 campaign for mayor, Johnson vowed to fire officers tied to far-right extremist groups. Johnson said Friday he stands by that promise but said officers can only be disciplined after an investigation that follows CPD rules.

A 2016 probe by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Chicago police officers were rarely held accountable for misconduct because of badly broken systems as well as a “code of silence” among officers that allowed them to act with impunity.

That investigation led to a federal court order, known as the consent decree, which requires the Chicago Police Department to change the way it trains, supervises and disciplines officers.

Five years after the consent decree took effect, CPD has fully met just 6% of the court order’s requirements, according to the most recent report by the team monitoring the city’s compliance.

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

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