CHICAGO — In late May 2020, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer left Chicago and other cities across the country grappling with looting and violence.

To tamp down the unrest, hundreds of Chicago police officers were ordered to report to a parking lot at Guaranteed Rate Field. The home of the White Sox — a stone’s throw from the Dan Ryan Expressway — offered police a central location from which they could be quickly dispatched as they sought to restore order across the city.

But there were still serious logistical problems.

The COVID-19 pandemic was in its relative infancy and David Brown was less than two months into his tenure as superintendent of the CPD.

Resources in the parking lot — dubbed the “mobilization center” — were scant. Officers were ordered to start their shifts there instead of at their district station, making it impossible for them to pick up certain pieces of equipment. Two — sometimes four — officers had to share a single radio. None of the officers assigned to the mobilization center had a bodyworn camera. CPD leaders also didn’t have a roster of officers assigned to be there, so they relied on rank-and-file cops to form their own “platoons” to be dispatched across the city.

“According to these command staff members, they instructed [officers] to organize themselves into platoons in accordance with their normal command structure; however, this did not always occur,” the city’s Office of the Inspector General later wrote in a blistering report on the CPD’s looting response.

A deputy chief told the OIG that the command structure in the parking lot was “sketchy.”

Another officer described the mobilization center as a “clusterf—.”

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One lieutenant at the mobilization center was Jason Brown of the Narcotics Division, headquartered in the CPD’s Homan Square facility on the West Side.

A member of the CPD since 1997, Brown had spent much of his career in that part of the city, where conflicts over drug turf largely drive gun violence.

In his first 20 years with the CPD, Brown was the subject of more than 50 misconduct complaints — more than 98% of all CPD officers in that time period — according to data made public by the Invisible Institute. Of those complaints, one was sustained and Brown was suspended for a day.

The CPD declined to comment on the allegations against Brown, and the department would not make him available for an interview.

And though he held the rank of lieutenant, Brown was the acting commander of Narcotics in late May 2020. Earlier that month, the previous commander, Ronald Kimble, and the deputy chief of the CPD’s Criminal Networks Group, William Bradley, were demoted and reassigned to patrol districts.

The Narcotics Division was facing scrutiny from the mayor’s office after an audit found heavy overtime spending, and, sources say, Kimble appeared to irritate Lightfoot during a meeting between the mayor and several CPD supervisors.

Days after the demotions of Kimble and Bradley, Brown was leading Narcotics with the blessing of First Deputy Supt. Eric Carter. Later that year, Brown appeared in a video, produced by the CPD, in which he offered extensive praise to officers assigned to Narcotics.

“The risk the guys and gals that work in Narcotics take every day is just unbelievable,” Brown says as he drives through Woodlawn, discussing a recent investigation. “They do the most dangerous and life-threatening work that you can possibly do in a police department, and they do it selflessly and with the utmost courage and professionalism. It’s absolutely outstanding, and I’m honored to work with them every day.”

At the mobilization center, while much of the city was roiled by looting and violence, Brown was concerned about the safety of his home in Bridgeport, a middle-class neighborhood home to scores of police officers and other municipal employees that sits just west of Guaranteed Rate Field.

Besides looting and other property crimes, gun violence exploded in Chicago in late May 2020. On May 31, Chicago recorded 18 murders — the highest number of killings the city had seen in a single day in at least 60 years, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

Jason Brown, at the time a lieutenant, was featured in a CPD video in which he discussed a recent investigation and praised Narcotics officers under his command.

As other CPD officers sought to tamp down widespread criminal activity, Brown ordered a group of officers to guard his typically quiet block for six days, according to two lawsuits filed against Brown in the last year by CPD sergeants.

Sgt. Cassandra Williams, a 31-year veteran of the CPD assigned to Narcotics, first brought allegations of Brown’s misconduct in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in June 2021.

During the unrest of 2020, Brown ordered Williams and a team of officers to guard his Bridgeport block after one of Brown’s neighbors alerted him to two men in a “raggedy” car who were taking photos of different houses on the block, according to a federal lawsuit brought by Williams earlier this year.

The team of officers, supervised by Williams, was ordered to guard the block until June 8, her suit alleges. However, “there was literally nothing for the officers to do on Brown’s block other than to stand around or sit inside their vehicles.”

“During this critical time, Defendant Brown decided that his own home and block deserved special police protection that no other Chicago home or block received,” Williams’ suit states.

“When Williams later began talking about this abuse of Brown’s authority, first to her colleagues at work and later to City of Chicago investigators and media reporters, Brown retaliated against her with a pattern of conduct designed to make her work life miserable,” the suit continues. “Brown did this because there is an entrenched code of silence in the CPD which makes officers afraid to report the misconduct of other officers, especially if they are higher ranking. This case illustrates how the police code of silence functions in the city of Chicago.”

Since she publicly accused Brown of misconduct, Williams says Brown has orchestrated a campaign of retaliation designed to “harass and embarrass” her.

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Marc Vanek was hired by the CPD in 2000 and promoted to sergeant in February 2014.

Four years later, he was assigned to Narcotics, where he was part of a team that worked to infiltrate Facebook groups that were marketplaces for illegal firearms and drug sales. Like scores of other police officers, Vanek’s day-to-day changed dramatically in late May 2020 when he was sent to Guaranteed Rate Field to help quell the unrest.

Once there, Vanek heard about Brown’s order that Williams and a team of officers guard Brown’s block, he claims in another lawsuit filed last September against Brown and CPD leadership.

Vanek alleges that he complained to Brown, telling the then-lieutenant that it was unfair to assign resources to his own block while other officers’ homes “did not have personal CPD protection.”

“Lt. Brown responded: Mind your own f—— business, this is my unit and I will do what I want with my people,” Vanek’s suit states.

The Bridgeport block where CPD Cmdr. Jason Brown lives. According to two lawsuits filed by CPD sergeants, Brown assigned a team of officers to guard the block for six days during a period of widespread unrest in Summer 2020. | Sam Charles/WGN

With the recent demotions of Kimble and Bradley, Brown was the highest-ranking officer in Narcotics and Vanek believed it necessary to alert the CPD’s upper echelons to Brown’s alleged misuse of department resources, his lawsuit states. On June 4, he wrote a letter to the superintendent telling him of the officers assigned to guard Brown’s block. Vanek says he received no response.

Brown was officially promoted to commander of the Narcotics Division in December 2020. Two months later, he ordered another lieutenant to file a complaint against Vanek, accusing him of misusing department funds, Vanek’s suit alleges. Later that month, Vanek was detailed to the overnight shift in the Harrison District on the West Side, for decades one of the most violent parts of the city, where he was made to work without a partner.

Around the same time, Brown called a meeting with other Narcotics sergeants, during which he made defamatory statements about Vanek’s reassignment, his lawsuit alleges.

“Commander Brown called a Sergeants meeting and informed all the Sergeants in the Narcotics Unit that he had to remove a Sergeant from the Unit because he was misappropriating funds,” Vanek’s suit states. “Sgt. Vanek was the only Sergeant removed from Narcotics. This statement was meant to defame Sgt. Vanek.”

Other officers who were assigned to the team that investigated drug and gun sales on the internet soon requested transfers from Narcotics to the CPD’s Detective Division, Vanek alleges. Brown told those officers that they had two options: Choose a patrol district to transfer to, or “come back into his office one at a time and pledge their loyalty to Commander Brown.”

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By the year 2020, Xavier Chism had been with the CPD for 15 years. Assigned to Narcotics, he previously worked as a tactical officer. Chism also received SWAT training and had drafted more than 200 search warrants during his career.

At some point that year, one of Chism’s fellow Narcotics officers performed an unwarranted search of public records tied to him. The officer, Sgt. Michael Nunez, used LexisNexis — a subscription service that searches public records databases — to look up information about Chism. Those details were later shared with Brown and other officers, according to a lawsuit filed by Chism last November.

LexisNexis flagged the search since both Nunez and Chism were registered users of the service, and CPD was contacted to explain why the search was conducted, Chism’s suit states.

After LexisNexis reached out to CPD, Brown called Chism and told him to write Brown an email “stating that Chism had given permission for Nunez to conduct the search he did, and that Chism knew about it in advance,” Chism alleges. “In other words, Brown was directing Chism to write a false statement.”

Chism says he refused, and later filed a complaint against Brown and the officer who performed the inquiry. As a result of that complaint, Brown blocked Chism’s appointment to a prestigious gun trafficking task force, Chism’s suit alleges.

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A June 2020 letter written by Sgt. Marc Vanek to CPD Supt. David Brown detailing then-lieutenant Jason Brown’s alleged misuse of CPD resources during the period of unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Though Brown is accused of retaliating against three of his subordinates in the last two years, CPD records obtained by WGN show he’s also willing to throw his support behind cops hoping to climb the CPD’s ranks.

On April 11, the CPD began training for 100 officers recently promoted to sergeant — a rank deemed crucial to the department’s future success by the independent monitoring team that grades the CPD’s adherence to the federal consent decree.

Of those 100 officers, 30 of them were selected through the CPD’s controversial merit promotions system — including an officer who Brown nominated. That officer, Zaid Abdallah, shot and killed a man on the South Side in July 2015 while responding to a call of a person with a gun.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability ultimately found the shooting to be within CPD policy, and a gun was recovered at the scene. The deceased man’s family later sued the city, eventually reaching a $250,000 settlement.

The CPD’s merit promotions system was introduced in the 1990s as a way to increase the number of female officers and officers of color in supervisor positions within the CPD. The system allowed for officers to move up the ranks even if their promotional exam scores did not place them at the top of the list.

CPD records show Brown himself received a merit promotion in December 2012 after he was nominated by since-retired Cmdr. Joseph Gorman. Two years later, Marc Vanek, one of the sergeants suing Brown, also received a merit promotion.

A report by the United States Department of Justice, prompted by the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014, found that CPD officers often complained about the opaque nature of the process. Officers often told federal investigators that merit promotions were viewed as “a reward for cronyism, rather than a recognition of excellence.”

Former CPD Supt. Charlie Beck — who led the department on an interim basis after Eddie Johnson was fired in 2019 — effectively did away with the merit system. His successor, Supt. David Brown, told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2020 that he had no plans to bring back merit promotions. However, he revived the program in 2021.