CHICAGO — In a letter to the U.S. Attorney General, the 11 members of Chicago City Council’s progressive caucus accuse the City’s Law Department of withholding evidence in police misconduct lawsuits and contributing to a culture of cover-ups.
The aldermen are now calling for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to conduct an investigation of the department, less than a week after a Department of Justice report found serious problems with the police department. Ald. John Arena (45th Ward) is one of the 11 aldermen demanding a federal investigation of Chicago’s Law Department.
“The Law Department has to look at itself, and the leadership has to look at itself, and the mayor has to look at his Law Department, that they are not playing hide-and-seek with evidence in cases,” Arena said.
The City of Chicago’s Law Department has been sanctioned eight times during the Emanuel administration for withholding possible evidence. In their letter to the Attorney General, the progressive caucus says this is a troubling trend. Lynch was in Chicago on Friday to announce the results of the 13-month investigation into the police department.
In the letter, aldermen say the Law Department’s Federal Civil Rights Litigation Division must address how City lawyers handle evidence in police lawsuits.
“I am voting on millions and million in settlements — if these settlements are reduced because the Law Department is somehow walking around the Constitution and those rights that are embodied there, that’s troubling to me,” Arena said.
This month Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton.
“There is zero tolerance for any individual, especially an individual representing the City in the courtroom, for not upholding the professional standards that are expected, and upholding the standards that are expected of serving the public, and representing the public in the court room,” Emanuel said. “Steve has my confidence and has my confidence to represent the city in the court room, but he also has my support.”
Ald. Arena says there may need to be changes in the Law Department – and says the Council is fulfilling its own oversight responsibilities.
“We’re taking responsibility by writing this letter – the reality is alderman are parties outside of the circle, and we rely on Law Department to present the facts to us,” Arena said.
The timing is complicated because Lynch only has four more days in office – so there’s no telling if the demands for an investigation will fall on deaf ears in the new administration. In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, a Law Department spokesman said:
“The Law Department is completely open and transparent with all settlement documents, including settlements of cases that allege police misconduct. Any suggestion otherwise is incorrect and not supported by the facts.”