CHICAGO — The COPA investigation is complete, the settlement money approved by the City Council, and the officer’s six-month suspension served.
But still, nearly four years after Chicago Police Sgt. Khalil Muhammad shot Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Hayes — an unarmed 18-year-old with autism who was reported missing hours earlier — charges of retaliatory demotions and whistleblower violations involving some of the highest-ranking members of the CPD linger in court.
Two longtime Chicago cops, Isaac Lambert and Rodney Blisset, filed separate lawsuits against the city in 2019 and 2020, both stemming from the August 2017 shooting on the Far South Side.
Lambert, a sergeant, alleges that he was reassigned from the CPD’s Detective Division to the Patrol Division in February 2019 after he refused to classify Muhammad as a victim in the shooting.
“They wanted me to have some reports changed to fit the narrative that they wanted,” Lambert previously said. “They wanted this kid charged with aggravated assault and the elements just weren’t there.”
Blisset, who was Lambert’s supervisor at the time and has retired from the CPD, alleges that he was demoted from commander of Area South Detectives to captain in January 2020.
That demotion, Blisset claims, came after two meetings with a city attorney.
In the first meeting, in July 2019, Blisset told the attorney that Lambert was moved to patrol on the order of Melissa Staples, the CPD’s Chief of Detectives at the time. Blisset, according to his complaint, said that he had no other involvement in the decision beyond telling Lambert of his reassignment.
Two months later, the attorney said Staples said Blisset previously referred to Lambert as a “problem employee” who was causing problems within the unit.
Blisset then “told the City attorney that Staples was lying; that Blisset would not lie; and that they needed to get it straight before they went to court,” his lawsuit states.
The city filed motion last month that seeks to shield that attorney from being deposed. The judge overseeing the case has yet to issue a ruling.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability eventually found that the shooting was unjustified, though the agency recommended only a three-month suspension for Muhammad. The Chicago Police Board ultimately opted to suspend him for six months.
Police records show that Muhammad was made a sergeant in 2012 by way of a merit promotion, a controversial — and recently revived — CPD program that aims to increase racial and gender diversity among the police department’s middle management. Muhammad is currently assigned to the Grand Crossing District on the South Side, according to a CPD spokesman.
A federal lawsuit filed against the city on Hayes’ behalf was settled for $2.25 million in 2020.
Staples was herself demoted in January 2020 — the same time as Blisset — as part of a departmental shakeup carried out by former Interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck. Staples is currently a lieutenant assigned to the Ogden District on the West Side, according to a CPD spokesman.
After Staples was demoted, Beck promoted Brendan Deenihan to Chief of Detectives in January 2020. Attorneys for the city say that Deenihan, testifying in a June deposition, said he recommended Beck not retain Blisset as the commander of Area South. Deenihan said that at least two people told him that Blisset was “disengaged” from his job duties.
Anthony Riccio, the CPD’s former First Deputy Superintendent, was also deposed last June, according to court records. During his testimony, Riccio said Blisset “did not respond to requests about high-profile cases” and that Blisset “needed to rely on lieutenants and sergeants under his command to answer questions.”
Attorneys for the city say that Beck, Staples and Robert Boik — the current executive director of Constitutional Policing and former chief of staff to Supt. David Brown — will also be deposed.