It was a cold night in Chicago, and the officers wore black masks over their faces.
Officer Gildardo Sierra had been on the force for nearly a decade and Officer Raoul Mosqueda for more than four years, but the men had never met before Jan. 6, 2011, the night they were assigned as partners for a 9 p.m. shift. Sierra rode shotgun as Mosqueda drove the blue and white police truck through the 7th District, which is on the city’s South Side.
They patrolled the area for about an hour, past narrow brick houses and weedy vacant lots and old buildings with boarded-up windows, before they heard a dispatch call on their district’s radio channel about a 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora fleeing from officers in the 4th District, in the southeast corner of town. The dispatcher gave the plate number, said the car had a temporary title, and noted that the pursuit had started at 8300 S. Marquette Avenue.
Three hours later, Sierra and Mosqueda spotted a dark green 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora with a temporary license plate, a paper yellow rectangle with a seven-digit number in black print. The car pulled up in the left lane beside them at a stoplight on West Marquette Road — nearly eight miles away from 8300 S. Marquette Avenue. The officers saw that there were two black men inside the car. “I said to [Sierra], 'I think this is the car that was wanted — get ready,'” Mosqueda later testified. The light turned green and the Aurora crossed the intersection. The officers followed it, slid behind it in the left lane, then flashed the truck’s blue lights.
In their trial testimony years later, the officers admitted that they strayed from department protocol at this point. They did not radio in that they were about to pull over a possibly wanted car. They did not call for backup. They did not ask the dispatcher for the license plate number of the wanted car. If they had, they would have learned that this was a different car.
The Aurora pulled to the right, by the curb, and slowed to a crawl, then accelerated slightly, then slowed, then accelerated slightly. Its brake lights flashed on and off, the officers later testified. The officers, still in the left lane, shined the truck’s spotlight. The Aurora slowed, accelerated, slowed. “To the untrained eye, it looks like they are going to slow down and comply,” Sierra later testified, but to experienced police officers, “them braking on those brakes three times, they were stalling.”
The police truck zoomed forward, just past the Aurora, then swerved to the right, nose to the curb, to block it. The officers jumped out of the truck with their guns drawn.
Sierra rushed toward the driver’s side shouting, “Get the fuck out!” Mosqueda approached the passenger's side.
“Get the fuck out of the car!” Sierra shouted. “Get the fuck out of the car!”
The driver, 27-year-old Darius Pinex, rolled down his window and held out his driver's license and registration. He was drunk, a toxicology test later showed. The passenger, 26-year-old Matthew Colyer, rolled down his window and held out his hands. The car was still on.
“Get the fuck out of the car!” Sierra shouted.
Mosqueda reached through Colyer's window, opened the door, unbuckled his seatbelt, and told him to step out of the car. Colyer took a step out of the car.
What happened next is disputed. The truck was sideways in the street, so the dashcam video of the incident shows only a dark house. The officers' body microphones were broken, so the audio of the event is a steady buzz. Colyer would testify that he heard the shot first, then felt the car suddenly reverse with a loud screech. Officers Sierra and Mosqueda would testify that the car reversed before Sierra fired and that Sierra feared that the car was dragging Mosqueda.
Sierra fired four shots over the next few seconds. Colyer tumbled out of the car and onto the parkway. The car accelerated backward for 20 yards, its open door snapped off by a tree, before slamming into a light post so hard that the light fixture broke off and crashed into the car's roof. Then the car rolled forward. Colyer later claimed it was going less than 5 miles per hour. The officers later claimed it reached closer to 20 miles per hour.
Following Sierra, Mosqueda opened fire. He later testified that he feared the car would hit Sierra. Three of his 14 rounds struck Pinex. The car stopped. Darius Pinex was dead.
After the shooting, Sierra, Mosqueda, and the officials around and above them would craft a story about what happened that night, a story shaped to justify the officers’ actions regardless of the circumstances.
The officers stayed on the street. Pinex was the first of three black men Officer Gil Sierra would shoot within six months. But this is Chicago, where cops involved in questionable killings don’t just go unpunished — they are protected by the very institutions meant to ensure that justice is done.
Pinex’s death was one of 70 fatal police shootings in Chicago between 2010 and 2014, more than any police department in America over that stretch. And like other fatal police shootings in this city, it set in motion a series of familiar events and decisions, a set of practices that almost always leads to the same result: Chicago police officers facing little to no punishment. A Georgia State University review of Chicago police shootings from 2006 to 2014 found that 95% of victims were people of color.
Officer Sierra remained on patrol. He shot 19-year-old Dion Richards two months later and then fatally shot 29-year-old Flint Farmer three months after that. Only after his third shooting of a black man in six months, and the public outrage sparked by video of that shooting, did city leaders step in. The police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, stripped Sierra of his gun and placed him on indefinite desk duty. McCarthy would say that Sierra shouldn't have been on the streets after the second shooting. The system had not worked as it was supposed to, McCarthy claimed.
The way many longtime Chicago residents saw it, the system worked exactly the way it always had. Officers have lied in police reports and intimidated witnesses — and the city’s public authorities have protected them.
“These are policies and practices of institutional denial and secrecy so deeply ingrained as normal here in Chicago,” said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago Law School professor who has studied policing in America. “This isn’t anything new. This is an entrenched systemic practice. A machinery of denial.”
The city government and police have been caught in high-profile lies before. After a police raid killed Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969, local authorities falsely claimed that officers opened fire in self-defense. Police commander Jon Burge tortured dozens of suspects from the 1970s to the 1990s: The city and the department denied allegations, in at least two court cases, that Burge oversaw the beatings and electrocutions, and the denials continued for years before the city apologized in 2015, reaching a $5.5 million settlement with more than 50 victims. There was the Laquan McDonald shooting in 2014: For more than a year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez withheld from the public video footage that conflicted with the statements given by every officer at the scene, who all claimed the 17-year-old lunged with a knife before Officer Jason Van Dyke opened fire.
“You couldn't have the code of silence here if the higher-up police officials, the state’s attorney, and assistant state’s attorneys, and the judges all didn’t work together in one for this to keep going,” said Flint Taylor, a longtime civil rights lawyer in the city.
This culture of protection and secrecy begins with police rank and file and spreads throughout the city’s institutions. The code of silence in the Chicago Police Department “is more observably entrenched and has been more difficult to break” than at other departments across the country, said Futterman.
The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the civilian agency tasked with reviewing allegations of misconduct against the department, has reviewed more than 400 police shootings since 2007 and ruled only two of them unjustified — less than 1%. Lorenzo Davis, who was a Chicago police officer for 23 years, worked as an investigative supervisor at IPRA until 2015, when he said he was fired for refusing to change his findings in three cases that he deemed “unjustified.” The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has charged a police officer for a fatal shooting just two times over the last 15 years. The mayor’s office has fought in court to keep police shooting videos from becoming public for as long as possible.
The city paid more than $40 million in settlements and civil verdicts for police shootings from 2011 to 2015, but “in Chicago, they’re treated as all justified,” said lawyer Jon Loevy.
In nearly all cases, officers claim that they fired their weapons because they feared for their lives or the lives of others. In many cases, they claim that the victim had a weapon, or something that looked like a weapon — even when the evidence suggests otherwise. Officers Juan Martinez and Shawn Lawryn said that they killed Esau Castellanos in 2013 because he opened fire on them. No gun was found at the scene. In 2012, Officer Otis Watts said that he fatally shot Divonte Young because Young had fired a gun at a group of people and then pointed the gun at officers. No gun was found on the scene and no gun discharge residue was found on Young’s hands. In other cases, such as the fatal shootings of Antwoyn Johnson in 2013 and Ronald Johnson in 2014, officers found a gun but did not find any fingerprints on it, which led lawyers and family members to accuse police of planting the gun. (The Chicago Police Department declined interview requests for this story.)
One witness to Ronald Johnson’s shooting said in a police statement that he saw a gun in Johnson’s hand. Later, though, the witness recanted. He now claimed that he didn’t see Johnson holding a gun and that officers threatened him with a charge if he didn’t go along with their story.
“I really just didn't want to be pinned with a gun," the witness said in a deposition. "He was dead already. There's nothing I can get in trouble for by saying this is what occurred."
Even in Chicago, where police shootings are more common than anywhere else in America, Officer Gil Sierra — who did not respond to interview requests for this story — was an outlier. “Three so close together — it’s very uncommon,” said Davis, who retired as a commander in 2004. “All three of those shootings were bad.” But the system in place to protect Sierra and other officers was familiar.
“The culture has not changed over the years,” Davis said. “It doesn’t look different at all.”
Matthew Colyer met Darius Pinex in high school and found that they were into the same things. "Video games, girls, cars," Colyer told BuzzFeed News, "you know, the finer things in life." As adults, they lived on the same block. Which is why Colyer called Pinex for a ride on Jan. 6, 2011. He’d spent the day at his girlfriend's house and it was late and the buses had stopped running.
As Pinex drove down West Marquette Road, which cuts through the center of their Englewood neighborhood, he was telling Colyer about his oldest daughter, Tiara, who was turning 11 the next day. “He had to get up in the morning and get a cake,” Colyer said.
Pinex had three daughters, and “he was so playful with them, always taking them out to the park, taking care of them,” his mother, Gloria Pinex, said. Colyer had seen the way Pinex had grown in recent years. His friend had gotten his driver's license just a few weeks earlier because "he was trying to get his stuff together, for his kids," Colyer said.
Before they could make it home, Pinex was dead and Colyer was facedown on the ground with an officer’s knee on his back.
Many more officers arrived on the scene. An ambulance pulled up. Red and yellow tape curled around trees and light posts. Staticky chatter sizzled from radios in cars and on shoulders. Folks from the neighborhood gathered outside the perimeter.
Colyer was handcuffed. His hand was bleeding from a deep gash below his thumb. Two officers loaded him into the back of a police truck and took him to the hospital. He thought about his own daughter at home.
“I was confused, numb, and very, very scared,” Colyer said. “It seemed like they could do whatever they wanna do. If I knew something against them, they gon’ lock me up. But if I didn’t know nothing, they was gon’ let me go.”
Once the doctor had finished stitching up Colyer's hand, a detective entered the room and asked what happened on West Marquette Road. He told the detective that he didn't know because he got knocked unconscious when he fell out of the car. In an interview room at the police station later that night, Colyer repeated that story to an IPRA investigator. When the investigator asked if he had at least seen the officers with their guns out, he replied, “I really don’t even open my eyes like that. I was just lying there in pain.”
Back on West Marquette Road, Sierra and Mosqueda awaited the high-level police officials who arrive at the scene of every officer-involved shooting. As both officers later testified, they knew they had strayed from department protocol several times in the lead-up to the shooting.
Before leaving the station, they were supposed to make sure the mics clipped to their police belts were working, but they did not. “We were so busy on that watch, we never bothered to check,” Sierra later testified. This is common: Audio is missing in around 80% of dashcam videos, sometimes because of “intentional destruction,” according to police files released by DNAInfo Chicago.
When Sierra and Mosqueda spotted the Aurora, they did not confirm that it was the wanted car. They did not get on the truck’s loudspeaker to tell the car’s driver to stop. When the Aurora crept slowly up the street, they did not inform the dispatcher and call for backup. Though they were trained to always approach vehicles from behind, they rushed this car from the front. And though they were trained to keep situations controlled and calm, they immediately escalated this one with guns and shouts.
They did not get on the police radio until after the gunfire.
Detectives George Gallagher and Kevin Smith, assigned to investigate the shooting, interviewed Sierra and Mosqueda at the scene. Gallagher’s report stated that the two officers believed that the Aurora was the “wanted vehicle” from the radio call. The officers claimed that they swerved in front of the car and drew their guns because they believed that the car was about to take off. The detectives logged the incident with a classification number for “aggravated battery to a police officer.”
The supervisor for Sierra and Mosqueda, Sgt. Jeffrey Siwek, arrived on the scene an hour after the shooting. He radioed dispatcher Mike Tracey and asked him to find out what the wanted Aurora was being pursued for, according to the radio recording cited in court. The dispatcher suggested they take their call off radio: “You want us to just call you, would that be best?” Tracey said.
Phone records showed that the two men then had a short cell phone call. Steve Greenberg, the lawyer who represented Pinex’s family in a lawsuit against the city, later speculated in court that in this cell phone conversation, Tracey told Siwek about another dispatch call from earlier that night about the wanted 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora. This message came on a different radio channel, the one for the 4th District, and it provided more information than the one on the 7th District’s channel: This call stated that the people inside the Aurora may have been involved in a shooting and warned officers that they might have a gun.
Sierra and Mosqueda had not heard this radio message before stopping Colyer and Pinex.
The following morning, at the police station, Sierra and Mosqueda spoke with the two detectives again and with an IPRA investigator. Their statements had changed from what they had said the night before. Both officers now claimed that they had heard a radio call for a 1998 Oldsmobile Aurora “wanted for shots fired,” according to Mosqueda’s IPRA statement. They also stated that they had found a gun underneath the driver’s seat. This is the version they stuck with.
“Shots fired,” the radio call blared shortly after midnight on March 22, 2011, two months after Darius Pinex’s death. The dispatcher relayed the location: 59th Street and Shields Avenue.
Officer Sierra and his partner (whose name was not released) answered the call. When they reached the intersection, they saw two black men standing on the sidewalk. The police car pulled up near the men and the officers shined the car’s spotlight on them. One of the men, 19-year-old Dion Richards, took off running.
The police car followed Richards, until he turned and headed the opposite direction down the sidewalk. The officers hopped out of the car and chased him. The partner raced ahead of Sierra. The partner later said that he was around 10 feet behind Richards when Richards pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it at him. The partner fired.
Richards later told investigators that he heard “two to four shots,” then felt a pain in his thigh and butt. He fell to the ground. The partner ran to Richards, then ran about 6 feet past him to scan and secure the area.
As Richards lay on the ground, Sierra caught up to the scene. He walked to Richards and stood over him with his gun drawn. From nearly point-blank range, he fired. The bullet hit Richards near the left pelvis.
The partner turned back around when he heard the shot. He later told investigators that he did not see anything in Richards’ hands and did not see a gun within reach. Upon closer inspection, he found only a gun’s magazine beside Richards’ body. Richards’ gun was 7 feet away on the street.
Sierra told detectives and IPRA investigators that Richards was “in a curled position, moving back and forth with his hands, which were underneath his body,” according to the IPRA report. He said that he thought he saw a gun in Richards’ hand. He said that he told Richards to show his hands and that Richards did not follow his orders, so he approached Richards, stood over him, told him to show his hands again, and when Richards still did not, he shot him.
The department and IPRA both ruled that the shooting was justified.
Few news outlets covered the incident. A local television station provided a brief summary, all from the department’s official statement: Officers responded to a report of gunshots in an area “known for gang and narcotics activity” and shot a man, who had a gun, in the leg.
The shooting didn’t get much attention. The victim, after all, survived and was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and unlawful use of a weapon. Richards took a plea deal and was sentenced to a year in prison. Lawyers reached out asking if he was interested in suing the police department, but Richards declined, according to attorney Steve Greenberg.
Gloria Pinex didn’t hear about the Richards shooting. By March, she was still struggling to explain to Darius’s daughters what had happened to their father. She had tried to celebrate Tiara’s birthday the day after Darius’s death. “We tried to lift her spirits and make her feel as good as possible but it wasn’t happening,” Gloria said. “She was real down. ... She was missing her daddy. Her daddy should have been at that birthday party.”
A few days after that, Matthew Colyer dropped by. Through tears, he told Gloria that her son had done nothing wrong. But, he told her, he couldn’t say this to police because he was scared of what might happen to him. She wasn’t mad. “I felt like he did what he had to do,” Gloria said. “He went into survival mode.”
In June, five months after Pinex was killed and three months after Richards was shot, Gloria heard about another police shooting in Englewood.
“Me and my husband were watching the news that night and we saw about the shooting,” she said. “And I said to him: I wonder, is this the same officer that did this to my son?”
The radio call, the third time, was for a report of domestic violence. Sierra and his partner Marco Torres arrived at the house on South Honore Street around 2 a.m. on June 7, 2011. When they confronted 29-year-old Flint Farmer, he ran. He cut through an empty lot and turned onto South Wolcott Avenue. Sierra chased him on foot. Torres got back in the police car and zipped down the block, hustling to loop around to South Wolcott.
Sierra shouted at Farmer to stop running. Farmer turned around and faced Sierra. At this point, Sierra later told investigators, Farmer “charged” toward Sierra, put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out a “dark object.” Sierra fired 13 rounds. Farmer fell to the ground. Sierra walked toward him.
Just then, Torres was reaching the scene in the police car. The dashcam video captured what happened next: Sierra stood over Farmer and fired three more shots.
Farmer had been unarmed. The officers found a cell phone near his body.
The department ruled that the shooting was justified, and IPRA’s investigation remains pending nearly five years later. Farmer’s family sued. In court, documents emerged showing that Sierra had admitted to a police psychologist that he drank five beers before his shift that night. He had passed the breathalyzer test because detectives did not administer it until five hours after the shooting. The medical examiner said that Farmer could have survived the initial barrage of shots; it was the final three that killed him.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune editorial board, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said that Sierra should have been placed on desk duty following his second shooting. He remained on the streets, McCarthy said, because the department’s internal communication channels had failed — the department did not have a good mechanism to track when officers were involved in multiple shootings.
McCarthy did not mention that the primary detective who investigated the Farmer shooting, Kevin Smith, was the same detective who investigated the Pinex shooting. He also did not say how many colleagues, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and commanders in Sierra’s 7th District knew that one of their own had been involved in multiple shootings.
In October 2011, the Chicago Tribune published the dashcam video of Sierra shooting Farmer, with the headline: “Justified? Chicago Cop Shot Unarmed Man in Back.” McCarthy told the paper that he had stripped Sierra of his gun and sent him to administrative desk duty, answering 311 calls. The city settled with Farmer’s family for $4.1 million. But State’s Attorney Alvarez did not file charges against Sierra. In her public announcement, she explained that it was reasonable for Sierra to have mistaken Farmer’s phone for a gun.
Farmer’s girlfriend, Tanesha Whitaker, was angry when she heard the announcement. Her guilt, however, outweighed her anger. She was the one who had called the police on Farmer, the father of her 3-year-old daughter. He had hit Whitaker. She still had bruises on her face when she met with lawyer Craig Sandberg to discuss the civil suit some days after the shooting. “She thought his death was her fault,” Sandberg said. “She wondered if maybe she shouldn't have called the cops.”
At every stage in the months and years following Pinex’s death, the city’s institutions protected the officers. The police department ruled that the shooting was justified. IPRA’s investigation remained pending, seemingly indefinitely. The state’s attorney’s office declined to file charges. The mayor’s office stayed silent. The two officers remained on the force, collecting their government paychecks.
For Gloria Pinex, a civil lawsuit was the final chance to hold Sierra and Mosqueda liable for killing her son.
The 7th District dispatch recording was a key piece of evidence in the case. In depositions and trial testimony, Officers Mosqueda and Sierra would claim that the incident escalated so quickly because the radio call had warned them that the people in the car might be armed and might have been involved in a shooting. As U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang would later put it: “whether Mosqueda and Sierra acted with excessive force depends, in large part, on what Mosqueda heard on the police-car radio that night.”
Six days after the January 2011 shooting, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), which handles police dispatch, sent the police department three copies of the 7th District’s radio channel transmission from that night. The tapes ended up inside a police department evidence locker.
Two years later, Pinex’s family sued the department, the city, and the two officers. The city’s law department represented the officers. When the Pinex lawyers requested from city attorneys all dispatch recordings related to the shooting, the 7th District tape was not in the batch.
City attorney Thomas Aumann had been responsible for collecting the evidence for the pre-trial discovery. Years later, in Judge Chang’s post-trial review of this case, Aumann would admit that he had not done a thorough search. Judge Chang would conclude that Aumann had been incompetent and negligent and that he had “failed to make a reasonable inquiry.”
And so, in the months leading up to the trial, the 7th District tape — the one that recorded what Sierra and Mosqueda had actually heard the night Pinex was killed — effectively did not exist.
Then one morning, Feb. 19, 2015, a week before the trial, city attorney Jordan Marsh received a call from an OEMC record keeper. As Marsh later admitted, the record keeper told him that her records showed that she had sent the 7th District tapes to the police department. The record keeper had double-checked her files because this mysterious 7th District tape had become a major dispute in the days before the trial. In fact, there was a hearing about the tape that exact day, and after taking the phone call, Marsh stepped into Chang’s courtroom.
The issue at hand at the hearing was whether the judge would allow city attorneys to play for the jury a recording of the 4th District call that mentioned the gun and the shooting. The city attorneys claimed that this call was similar to the call the officers would have heard in the 7th District; the actual 7th District call, the city attorneys argued, must not have been saved in evidence records and must have been erased from the OEMC system, which only keeps recordings for 30 days. The lawyers for Pinex’s family, Steve Greenberg and Steve Fine, argued that the officers were lying about hearing any radio call about an Aurora: that there was no record of the call suggested that the call had never happened.
Even though he had gotten confirmation minutes earlier that copies of the 7th District recording still existed, Marsh continued to argue that the jury should hear the 4th District recording: “We should be able to play [the 4th District call] to establish that there was something very similar [to what Mosqueda said he heard] that went out, and that makes it more likely that indeed there was [such a call].” He did not say anything about the phone call he’d just had with the OEMC record keeper, when he had been told about the existence of the 7th District tape. (Marsh declined an interview request for this story.)
Marsh later claimed that he did not mention it at the time because he wanted to listen to the tape for himself first “to see whether it was even relevant.” He claimed that he did not bring it up at any point in the trial because, though he tried to get the tapes, the detective with access to them never called him back. Judge Chang would see it another way: He had “no choice but to conclude, based on the record evidence, that Marsh intentionally withheld this information.”
The 7th District recording was not the only thing missing from the evidence. Greenberg and Fine also did not receive the original police report from that night, the one that did not mention a gun and a shooting. Instead, city attorneys only gave them the second police report, from the next morning, which did mention a gun and a shooting. Marsh and Aumann would later say that this was an accidental oversight. Chang would say that “the unproduced police reports, of all the assorted other discovery violations, troubles the Court the most.”
The trial began on Feb. 23, 2015. Greenberg argued that the officers created the dangerous situation: by not checking the license plate, by not calling for backup, by cutting off the Aurora and rushing it with guns out.
Colyer testified that he had lied in his initial statements because he was scared and that officers told him he would be charged with a crime if he didn’t keep his mouth shut. A crime scene reconstruction expert testified that the angle of the bullet holes in the Aurora indicated that Sierra fired his first shot before it began reversing. Greenberg accused officers of planting the gun: It was never checked for fingerprints or DNA. Judge Chang allowed city attorneys to play the 4th District recording, and Greenberg argued that the officers hadn’t heard any recording and that they used the 4th District recording to justify their actions. The real reason they pulled Pinex over, Greenberg argued, was simply because he was a black man in Englewood.
In their testimony, the officers relied heavily on the 4th District tape to explain that this was a "high-risk" traffic stop. Mosqueda said the radio call he heard contained the same information as the 4th District message. Sierra said that his partner “was very adamant that was a wanted vehicle with a gun involved.”
When OEMC employee Laura Dunaj took the stand a few days before the end of the trial, Greenberg aimed to reveal that there had never been a 7th District call for an Aurora that night. He questioned her about the record-keeping process. He found her answers evasive, which heightened his suspicions that the call never happened. During the questioning, it emerged that the city attorneys had never given Dunaj the subpoena Greenberg had filed requesting all recordings from that night.
Greenberg asked Judge Chang if his team could question Dunaj off-the-record, to try get past her evasions and find out whether there really was 7th District radio call. The judge agreed and called a recess. Greenberg, Fine, and the city attorneys met with Dunaj in a conference room beside the courtroom. At first, Fine said, Dunaj remained evasive, answering their questions just as she had on the witness stand. The trial came close to ending without Greenberg and Fine ever finding out about the 7th District call. But later that day, while the city attorneys were out for a lunch break, Fine spoke to Dunaj alone, and she acknowledged to him that the tape did exist.
Once debriefed back in court, Judge Chang said, “I am not hearing an explanation of why this wasn’t disclosed earlier.”
A copy of the 7th District tape was in the courtroom the next day. As the jury heard, it did not mention a gun or a shooting.
By this point, Chang later concluded, it was too late. “Ultimately, the jury heard the call that Plaintiffs’ Counsel had told them did not exist,” Chang would write. “That contradiction of Plaintiffs’ Counsel’s position must have severely undermined, to say the least, their credibility with the jury.”
The jury sided with the officers, finding that they reasonably believed their lives were in danger and were justified in shooting, and declined to award any money to Pinex’s family.
Chang, however, immediately ordered a review of what happened in the lead-up to the trial. He soon found that Aumann had “acted unreasonably during discovery” and Marsh had “intentionally concealed” evidence and “made misleading statements to the Court.”
“The evidence of this bad faith is clear and convincing,” Chang wrote in his post-trial ruling, which he filed on January 4. “Marsh came very close to successfully withholding this information all the way to final judgment.”
Chang called for a new trial and ordered the city to cover all costs for “the now-wasted first trial.” The new trial is scheduled to begin in July.
Marsh’s superiors in the law department had learned about the allegations of his misconduct when Chang and Greenberg did — during the trial in February 2015. Marsh continued to handle cases over the next 10 months. Aumann resigned in August. The law department did not internally investigate Marsh’s conduct because it did not want to interfere with Chang’s efforts, law department spokesperson Bill McCaffrey told BuzzFeed News. When Chang’s review was complete, the law department opened an internal review into all of Marsh’s cases dating back to 2010.
Marsh had handled civil rights cases for the city for eight years, including many police shooting cases. As news of his misconduct spread, attorneys across the city began to wonder what other evidence Marsh had hidden over the years. Jared Kosoglad, a civil rights attorney who has handled police shooting cases, said, “Quietly, people are thinking about times when they’d had strong suspicions about evidence that ought to have been present but wasn’t.”
Hours after Chang released his findings, Marsh resigned. By then, high-level city officials had been facing heat for weeks.
The release of the Laquan McDonald video in November had sparked protests in the streets and accusations that Mayor Rahm Emanuel withheld the footage to protect his re-election campaign. The outrage shook the public offices with ties to city law enforcement.
Scott Ando, head of IPRA, resigned. Garry McCarthy, the Chicago police superintendent, was fired. The Department of Justice opened an investigation into the police department’s practices. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez lost the Democratic primary race to Kim Foxx by nearly 30%. And protesters across the city called on Emanuel to step down. A February Chicago Tribune poll showed that around 75% of Chicago voters believed that he lied about when and how he learned the details of McDonald’s death and that 63% of voters disapproved of his overall job performance.
“As far as I can remember, our community has never had trust in the police or in any of the city’s institutions, for that matter,” said Charles Jones, an Englewood native. “But I believe there is even less trust today.”
To many in the city, the police department’s lies and brutality have helped fuel Chicago’s violent crime rate, which has not seen the same drop as in New York City and Los Angeles. Some cite the psychological impact: “The people who are supposed to enforce the law keep breaking the law, so how do they get everybody else to follow the law?” said Jedidiah Brown, a community leader. “We don’t trust our police department and because of that we have an increase in lawlessness, because our mindset is not to respect a force that is out to kill us and we’re threatened by and afraid of and disconnected from.”
Others point out that people scared and distrusting of police are less likely to cooperate: “The areas in Chicago that receive the greatest numbers of complaints of police abuse are the very same areas where police have the lowest clearance rates for solving violent crimes,” said University of Chicago professor Futterman. “The areas where police have the least trust are the areas where police have the most trouble solving crimes.” In 2015, the department solved just 26% of its 472 homicide cases, half the rate of the New York City Police Department.
In recent months, the city has made efforts to rebuild trust between residents and law enforcement. Emanuel formed a task force to review police misconduct and expanded a police body-camera program. He announced his support for a policy that would require the city to release video and audio of police shootings within 60 days. The law department hired an outside team of legal experts to review “the practices and standards” of its Federal Civil Rights Litigation division, which defends the city and police officers in excessive force cases. The police department created a new policy mandating that officers involved in a shooting serve 30 days of desk duty, after 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones were killed when officers opened fire inside their apartment building in December.
Sierra remained on desk duty in the years following his third shooting. By the end of 2015, he had resigned from the department.
In late March, Emanuel announced his choice for police superintendent: Eddie Johnson, the department’s chief of patrol and a 27-year veteran of the force. In an interview with CBS, Johnson said, “I’ve actually never encountered police misconduct, ‘cause you got to understand, officers that commit misconduct don’t do it in front of people that they think are going to hold them accountable for it. Now that I’m sitting in this chair, if I come across it, I will deal with it accordingly.”
Locals are skeptical of the new reform efforts. “It’s bullshit,” Brown said. “They are trying to put up a front.”
Matthew Colyer said that he had been through too much to ever trust the Chicago Police Department. In the months following his friend’s death, he rarely left the house. He found himself overcome by fear. In his mind, maybe every officer knew his name and face, knew him as the sole witness to a police shooting.
“They think they’re their own gang out there,” he said. “I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t wanna ride in people’s cars. I didn’t wanna do too much of anything.”
After a year, he decided that he couldn’t keep living like this. He left Chicago, the city he’d lived in all his life, and moved 25 miles south.
Albert Samaha is the criminal justice reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Albert Samaha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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