As Police Kill Youth, Vast Misconduct Allegations Purged
By Sarah Macaraeg, Truthout
This is the first piece of a four-part investigative series on the Chicago Police Department and the Independent Police Review Authority.
On July 4, 2014, as the final explosions of Chicago's lakefront fireworks extravaganza trailed into the water and began fading in the night sky, 14-year-old Pedro Rios Jr. crossed Cicero Avenue in front of an approaching police car, on the northwest side of town.
A brown-skinned boy just over 110 pounds, sporting a low fade haircut and the faint beginnings of a mustache, Rios walked in blue-and-white sneakers, shorts and a blue T-shirt - which soon bore the marks of two gunshots, fired into his back by a police officer.
The young Chicagoan technically saw the end of his eighth grade year; school had ended for the summer two and a half weeks prior. But given a spell of missed days and poor grades, Rios did not graduate from the neighborhood elementary school he attended with two younger brothers.
Pronounced dead on the scene of his encounter with police, he never will.
The Independent Police Review Authority categorized the fatal shooting of Rios as "non fatal" in its report.
That authorities in the squad car pursued the 14-year-old - and that an officer discharged a firearm, killing Rios - is not in dispute. Yet an official copy of the boy's death record, certified by the Cook County medical examiner, states "suicide" under "manner of death." Performed by the same medical examiner's office, Rios' autopsy findings state "homicide."
Meanwhile, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) - a City of Chicago agency tasked with investigating police misconduct complaints and weapon discharge notifications - categorized the fatal shooting of Rios as "non fatal" in its statistical report to the public.
Such misclassifications are not the only aberrations Truthout discovered in government reporting related to the death of the 14-year-old. Nor is Rios' shooting the only instance in which a fatal encounter with Chicago police officers disappeared from statistics.
According to IPRA spokesperson Larry Merritt, in separate conversations with both Truthout and the Chicago Justice Project, the oversight agency's numbers are sourced directly from the Chicago Police Department, via the Citizen and Law Enforcement Analysis and Reporting (CLEAR) database. Translated from jargon: Chicago's municipal government provides accuracy in reporting police violence only to the extent accuracy exists in police data. Even setting the matter of IPRA's purported independence from the department aside - the revelation is a bombshell.
As deaths disappear into database digits, Laura and Pedro Rios Sr. live the reality that their four children are now three.
After months of trumpeting free-falling crime rates, as evidence of successful policing, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy faces ongoing scrutiny over the department's statistics. Covered in detail by journalists at Chicago magazine, McCarthy-era crime reporting has seen a small number of murders go uncounted as such, marked in a mysterious non-criminal "death investigation" column instead. For a department intent on measuring success by year-to-date statistics, creatively categorizing crime provides a surefire route for driving down the crime rate, as officers themselves and experts who've long studied the numbers, related in Chicago magazine's report.
Analyzing three years of deadly shootings by police under McCarthy's leadership, Truthout found at least five fatal shootings, in addition to the fatality of Pedro Rios Jr., missing from reports to the public.
But as deaths disappear into database digits, and careers are calculated alongside numbers, Laura Rios and Pedro Rios Sr. live the reality that their four children are now three.
"It is as if his life didn't even count, as if he was trash."
Near Chicago's Lake Michigan, in a working-class neighborhood at the edge of city limits, Laura Rios spoke with Truthout by way of an interpreter, sitting at her kitchen table as two preteen sons played with their toddler cousin nearby.
"These have been very sad months," she said, pausing.
"I need Pedro but he's gone."
"It is as if his life didn't even count, as if he was trash," she said, her voice quickening at "basura" ("trash") and then faltering. "That hurts so much as a parent.
"Something is not right with all of this," she added after a silent moment, sitting up straight and brushing the hair from her eyes.
"I won't let it go."
Secrecy and Impunity
However, there is no reason why Laura Rios must live with unanswered questions regarding the death of her second-born child. Since it took place at a surveillance supply company, outfitted with cameras at the incident location, the shooting of Pedro Rios Jr. was captured on video, currently in possession of authorities. Anticipating a request for a protective order from the City barring its public release, Mark Brown of Lane and Lane, the family's lawyer, will be filing a complaint in federal civil court in coming weeks. Alongside the suit, he will also be requesting a copy of the video and asking the court to deny any request for a protective order.
Meanwhile, the official paper trail left in the shooting's wake is also barred from public viewing, with the Independent Police Review Authority's investigation precluding a Freedom of Information Act release of records.
Against the landscape of an accountability process lacking on all fronts, the killing of Rios reveals profound failures in governance.
Of the fatal shooting cases closed by IPRA in the years studied, all of the shootings were deemed justified. Investigations lasted an average of 16 months (1) - 10 months beyond the time limit recommended by the US Department of Justice. Among them is the killing of Black 20-year-old Michael Wilson, who was in possession of a hammer when shot by six officers, who collectively discharged 24 bullets.
With the bulk of records blocked while IPRA investigates, Truthout found the little information that remains available on the death of Rios, marked by discrepancy after discrepancy - in time of death, (2) manner of death and the alleged chronology of events.
Of particular concern: a likelihood surmised from autopsy report details on wound course, that the boy was shot and killed laying face down in an alley, where his body remained for two hours before being pronounced dead. The police account, however, offers a different scenario, in which Rios ran from officers, was shot and continued to run, pivoted, and ran back toward the officer who then tackled him.
Delivered by Superintendent Garry McCarthy directly, the account was part of a lengthy public statement, justifying each of the eight police shootings that occurred the same July 4th weekend.
Months later, Chicago faces a moment of possibility. With an impending mayoral runoff election, between incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, the prospect of change in all city agencies has been raised.
"Almost none of these shootings are deemed inappropriate, much less considered murders. Statistically, that just can't be true."
But against the landscape of an accountability process lacking on all fronts, the killing of Rios reveals profound failures in governance beyond any single site of abuse in custody, shooting, statistic or even mayor, revealing policies at all levels of government that stand at odds with best practices, and the human right to life - particularly of Chicago's Black and young people.
In a city where such violations are living history, however, after decades of police torture led by Commander Jon Burge have resulted in his freedom while 19 of those tortured into confessions languish behind bars - and where Truthout uncovered the ongoing purging of the vast majority of misconduct complaints - the precedent of Department of Justice intervention beckons. But the death of a child, shot in the back among a pattern of youth killed similarly, prompts a deeper reckoning as well, with the very basis of authorized deadly force, as it stands across the United States.
"Around the country, several hundred people are killed by police every year," said Dr. Richard David, an intensive care doctor at John H. Stroger Cook County Hospital and professor in public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "Almost none of these shootings are deemed inappropriate, much less considered murders.... Statistically, that just can't be true."
Pedro Rios Jr. in summer camp, 2012.Seeking to uncover the facts while shedding light on the life of the boy - who mass media initially described as a man, with a "Dirty Harry gun" according to police, Truthout spoke with Rios' family and former educators, a civil rights lawyer, a criminologist and six medical professionals of varying specialties. Civilians who've filed misconduct complaints and a spokesperson and former intern of the Independent Police Review Authority were interviewed, as was the police reform advocate who catalyzed a Department of Justice investigation into the Newark Police Department, helmed by Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the five years leading up to his 2011 appointment. Spokespeople representing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the Cook County medical examiner, Dr. Stephen Cina, corresponded with Truthout in the course of the three-month investigation, in which Chicago Police News Affairs and the office of Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez have not yet responded to multiple requests for comment.
Analyzing available data and records regarding the shooting of Pedro Rios Jr., alongside related media accounts, civil suits, municipal code, state law and Department of Justice best practices, Truthout also reviewed reports, budgets, statements and directives generated by four different Chicago city agencies, over the years of the current administration. The investigation found:
Contradictions in the police account of the killing of 14-year-old Pedro Rios Jr. and multiple aberrations in the classification of his death
Trends in underreporting police violence and the purging of the vast majority of misconduct complaints
American Police Killed More People in March (111) Than the Entire UK Police Have Killed Since 1900
By Shaun King / Daily Kos
April 1, 2015
Yeah. Those numbers are real.
A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.
Don't bother adjusting for population differences, or poverty, or mental illness, or anything else. The sheer fact that American police kill TWICE as many people per month as police have killed in the modern history of the United Kingdom is sick, preposterous, and alarming.
Police beat Phillip White to death in New Jersey. He was unarmed.
Police shot and killed Meagan Hockaday, a 26-year-old mother of three.
Police shot and killed Nicholas Thomas, an unarmed man on his job at Goodyear in metro Atlanta.
Police shot and killed Anthony Hill, an unarmed war veteran fighting through mental illness, in metro Atlanta.
I could tell 107 more of those stories.
This has to end.
Do Cops Just Tase People for Fun Now?
AlterNet By Steven Rosenfeld
On the first Sunday in August, Brandon Ruff, an offduty sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department, was given three guns by a friend who wanted to turn them in to the police under the city’s no-questions-asked firearms policy. Little did Ruff know when he walked into a station at 6:30pm, that by midnight he would be assaulted by a half-dozen police officers using Tasers—stun guns delivering up to 50,000 volts—arrested, thrown in a cell, and put under a police investigation.
“You are a piece of f**king sh*t, you are scum, and you are supervisor. You are a disgrace to me, this department and the 35th District. You do not belong on this job,” a desk sergeant yelled at Ruff, after he produced his police ID, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit  filed by the officer on Monday, seeking damages and a court review of cops who use “their status as police officers to have persons falsely arrested, assaulted and [subject to] malicious prosecution and unlawfully searched... to achieve ends not reasonably related to their police duties.”
Excessive use of force by police is hardly new. But it is unusual when a police officer points the finger at abuses by fellow cops, as Ruff does in his lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania. When Ruff identified himself as a cop, one officer shouted back, “I’ll fucking tase you,” the lawsuit said. A half-dozen other officers then ambushed him as he stepped outside to make a telephone call, grabbing him, roughing him up, shocking him and finally arresting him.
Ruff’s suit was one of two filed in federal court Monday citing police brutality and Tasers. In his suit, Ruff said that Philadelphia police were “deliberately indifferent” to the need for “more or different” training, supervision, investigation and discipline in for “false arrest… [and] evidence planting.” Ruff said the department also turned a blind eye to “police officers with emotional or psychological problems.”
The second federal lawsuit  filed Monday over Taser abuse, in San Bernardino County in southeast California, concerned eight deputy sheriffs who routinely tortured prisoners at a jail with Tasers, even sharing videos of the assaults for entertainment. The victim, Cesar Vazquez, was regularly attacked while working in the jail’s kitchen. The lawsuit has even more graphic details than Ruff’s cop-on-cop violence:
Vazquez “was given a job within the [West Valley Detention] Center as a ‘chow server;’ in that job, Plaintiff was to possess greater privileges than other inmates, including telephone calls, television time, and freedom of movement within the Center,” the suit said. “Soon after starting this job, Plaintiff was told by [San Bernadino County Sheriff Department Captain Robert] Escamilla and [Deputy Sherrif Russell] Kopasz that these two deputies used a Taser or other electroshock weapon on, or ‘tased,’ all chow servers as part of an ‘initiation’ process.”
“Escamilla and Kopasz then proceeded to place their weapons on the Plaintiff’s upper thighs, and produced a shock to the Plaintiff’s body, causing pain so intense that Plaintiff leapt to his feet; Escamilla and Kopasz each laughed,” the suit said, noting that they tased Vazquez once a week or more. “On another occasion, while Plaintiff and other inmates were watching television, Escamilla approached them and said that he was going to hold a ‘taser seminar,’” the suit continued. “Escamilla told Plaintiff to sit down so that the deputies could try to break the Plaintiff’s ‘record’ of the number of electroshock weapons Plaintiff could endure at a time.”
The suit said that Vazquez “cooperated” with another string of taser assaults by [Deputy Sheriff Nicholas] Oakley “since Oakley used a threat of physical harm… which Plaintiff considered more serious than the possible tasing.” The suit said another deputy sheriff, Andrew Cruz, “tased Plaintiff between 20 and 30 times… while housed at the facility,” between March and December 2013.
Both lawsuits say a range of constitutional rights were violated, starting with freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and due judicial process. The California suit seeks $30 million in damages; the Philadelphia suit doesn’t specify a figure, but calls on the court to look at the “psychological problems” among officers using Tasers.
AlterNet has long documented  abusive policing and misuse of Tasers. Civil liberties groups such as the New York Civil Liberties Union have issued reports on police misuse of Tasers. In late 2011, the NYCLU found  that in 75 percent of incidents where New York police had used Tasers, the cops issued no verbal warning. In only 15 percent of incidents involving Taser use, the target was “armed or thought to be armed,” NYCLU found.
On Tuesday, the San Bernardino branch of the NAACP held  a press conference with the widow of Dante Parker, a 36-year-old African-American man who was tasered by county sheriff deputies on August 12 and later died at a hospital. The NAACP was calling on the federal government to take over the investigation into Parker’s death, as the Department of Justice is doing with Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, MO.
“We are asking for transparent accountability as to what happened to Mr. Parker’s encounter with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies and how and why did Mr. Parker die in their custody,” Samuel Carl Jr., Victor Valley NAACP president, said . “While this instance regarding Mr. Parker’s death is heartbreaking and all the questions and answers have yet to be known, we also stand here today with the realization that African-Americans are dying at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve the community in record numbers.”
The family’s lawyer told  the San Bernardino Sun that “the evidence will show in this case that this did not happen as the deputies described it.” The newspaper cited remarks by his widow, Bianca Carlisle Parker, who is left with five children:
Bianca Parker said since her husband’s death, her youngest son, 6-year-old Dan’te Parker, has asked every morning “Why all black men have to die?”
“He was our provider, he was the rock of our family,” she said, beginning to sob. “And I don’t want to go through life being a bitter person but I feel myself having a whole bunch of anger and I’m not an angry person. I’m very forgiving, and it’s not right. He taught me how to be a better person. He taught me how to not be prideful. He taught me how to apologize to people. We’ve known each other since we were 13. This is not just some dude off the street. He was a loving, caring father.”
The more one looks for examples of police brutality and excessive weapon use, the more one finds. George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, wrote  after Michael Brown’s killing that estimates based on incomplete reporting by police agencies across America suggest that white police are killing African Americans at a much higher rate than is admitted.
“According to stats compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, an unarmed African American died at the hands of an armed white police officer at the rate of nearly two per week from 2005 to 2012. Over that 8-year-period, 400 police killings were reported per year. White officers killed a black person, on average, 96 times per year.
“As bad as those figures are, they grossly understate the problem. The FBI statistics are based on the voluntary reporting of local law enforcement jurisdictions. Currently, approximately 750 of 17,000 law enforcement agencies regularly report their figures to the FBI. That means if the ratio holds true for all 17,000 agencies, the annual 96 black deaths at the hands of white cops could be as high 2,170 a year or almost 42 (41.73) per week – nearly six per day (5.94).
Curry said that a conservative estimate—based on cutting those numbers in half—would still mean three deaths at police hands daily. Of course, not every person shocked with a Taser dies. But police agencies across America certainly know that Tasers can be very dangerous, if not fatal.
In March, San Francisco police responded to a report of a young man with a Taser in a city park in a neighborhood that’s become a Silicon Valley bedroom community. Police ended up shooting and killing Alex Nieto, 28, in an incident that prompted his family to file a federal civil rights lawsuit  against the city this past Friday.
“In the aftermath of the incident, the City and County of San Francisco ('CCSF') and the involved Officers claimed Alex defied Officers’ orders and pointed a taser at them,” the suit said. “To date, CCSF has refused to release the involved Officers’ names. Instead, CCSF has engaged in a media campaign to besmirch Alex’s reputation as a well known San Francisco resident who never sustained a single arrest.”
On Monday, the media covered the funeral of Michael Brown. The same day, two federal lawsuits were filed on different ends of the country, including one by a police officer, saying that police are using tasers to unnecessarily assault civilians and torture prisoners.
On Tuesday, in the same county where a Latino man was mercilessly attacked by sheriff's deputies, the NAACP called on the FBI to take over the investigation of yet another police killing involving excessive force and Tasers. That same day in Georgia, the lawyer for the family of a man who died in April after being tased 13 times held a press conference saying  police didn't follow their own rules for using tasers, prompting the police to say that man, Gregory Towns, died from other causes.
And in San Francisco, Alex Nieto’s family is still waiting for answers about why their son was killed by police.
- Of the minority of its log retained after referrals, IPRA assigned only 30 percent - or 8 percent of its total log - for investigation.
- Internal Affairs investigated 22 percent of IPRA referrals it received - or 16 percent of the total logged by IPRA - in 2012 and 2013, citing the remainder as "administratively closed."
- An Illinois statute, the Uniform Peace Officers' Disciplinary Act, requires that those submitting complaints of misconduct also submit sworn statements. Leading to the purging of hundreds of complaints submitted without statements in Chicago alone every year, Truthout found state law cited Chicago Police and university, municipal and county law enforcement agencies across the state, in addition to the Illinois State Police. The policy runs counter to law enforcement best practice recommendations - for serving as a deterrent by intimidating complainants via the threat of punishment by law if considered perjury - of the Department of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. The requirement is specifically prevented as such by the attorney general of the State of New Jersey.
Institutionalized police bias among agencies tasked with police accountability
- Per a Chicago Police directive, IPRA provides police officers accused of misconduct with the names of their complainants; the opportunity to review previous statements prior to questioning; and a period of 24 hours after the shooting of civilians before questioning takes place.
- Of 10 fatal shootings occurring between 2012 and 2014, with cases closed by IPRA, all were deemed "justified." Many raise clear concerns of police bias, given aberrations in video, forensic and testimonial evidence; findings contradictory with other legal experts; and eyewitnesses unpursued. Six victims were shot in the back; three were unarmed. In one instance, an alleged weapon was never recovered. In multiple instances, an alleged weapon was in dispute. Seven were youth, 16 to 24 years old. All of the victims were men; nine were Black and one was Hispanic. In the series to come, Truthout will be examining the investigations.
- IPRA investigators are trained by Chicago police officers and alongside them: The oversight agency cited the attendance of its staff at six separate trainings led by Chicago Police, including regular attendance at Chicago Police Training Academy, as well as three trainings led by military or other law enforcement agencies, in its most recent biannual report.
- Since January 2012, IPRA has reportedly referred 190 cases to Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, whose office will bring former Chicago police officer Dante Servin to trial in mid-April for the shooting death of unarmed Rekia Boyd, the first criminal charges faced by a Chicago police officer in 15 years. In 2011, Alvarez's office declined to press criminal charges against Chicago police officer Gildardo Sierra for the shooting death of unarmed Flint Farmer; Sierra shot Farmer seven times, discharging the last three shots at close range while Farmer lay face down, as captured on dash cam video, killing him. It was the eighth shooting in which Sierra was involved.
- A combined $21 million in taxpayer funds are dedicated to the city's police accountability structure, among the Independent Police Review Authority, Internal Affairs, and the Police Board, according to the City of Chicago's 2015 budget. In contrast, a proposed ordinance to fund reparations for police torture victims seeks a one-time sum of $20 million, to provide counseling and education to those tortured into false confessions by police, alongside monetary restitution and inclusion of the city's decades-long police torture scandal in Chicago public school curricula.
- Between 2012 and 2014, the City of Chicago Department of Law requested payment of $192 million in settlements, verdicts and fees attributed to the Chicago Police Department. $61 million was paid to settle wrongful convictions, and another $43 million went toward cases charging excessive force. The majority of cases were from the city's backlog, which as of September 2014 included 491 Chicago police cases - but on average 20 percent, or 250 cases, were the result of incidents taking place in the years of the current administration.
IPRA_Police Board_Internal Affairs_Salaries
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City of Chicago 2015 Budget ordinance, Positions and Salaries. Another $581,242 attributed to the agencies is budgeted separately in Appropriations.
In the series to come, Truthout will explore the life of Pedro Rios Jr., and the pattern and practice of Chicago police violence and impunity. The coming reports will also provide updates resulting from ongoing requests for comment from involved agencies and the fulfillment of records requested under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, in progress with the Independent Police Review Authority, the Chicago Police Department and the office of Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Internal Affairs 2012
Internal Affairs 2013
IPRA Annual Report 2010-2012
IPRA Stats 2012 Officer Involved Shootings
IPRA Stats 2013 Officer Involved Shootings
IPRA Stats 2014 Officer Involved Shootings Qtr 3
In January, Truthout interviewed IPRA's spokesperson, who has not yet responded to multiple follow up requests for comment. The agency's quarterly reports detailing allegations and notifications logged, and referrals:
Alex Cachinero-Gorman contributed interpretation services to this report.
1. Calculated by Truthout as length of time between date of the shooting and date attributed to the closed investigation report by IPRA.
2. Although an initial media account attributes a 10:07 pm time of death to the Cook County Medical Examiner's office, Rios' official death certificate records a time span of more than two hours between time of injury and time of death, at 12:06 am - the time an investigator arrived to the scene and the only time on file, according to a Cook County spokesperson. While Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handbooks on death reporting suggest an initial pronouncement and estimated time of actual death should exist, the medical examiner's office maintains a policy that time of death is officially the time an investigator from their office arrives on the scene to pronounce it. As the autopsy report shows no evidence of medical treatment beyond connection to a monitor, amid varying policies and times cited, it remains unknown for certain if medical aid was needed and denied, at any point during the two hours Rios lay in an alley, although medical professionals Truthout spoke to found it unlikely the teen would have survived his injuries long. A record of non-transport by paramedics was requested of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications by way of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Sarah Macaraeg is a writer and strategist based in Chicago, exploring social justice issues by way of data-based investigations, features and oral history. She collaborated with the organization We Charge Genocide in the planning of its United Nations Committee Against Torture presentation on the Chicago Police Department and is currently editing a book of narratives from women workers across the city. Follow her on Twitter @seramak.
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