IPRA AND MEDIA: TOO COZY?

Chicago Police Officer Michelle Murphy never dreamed that she would become a defendant in a case that involved her being dragged under a car during a traffic stop on Chicago’s south side.

Murphy, who suffered broken ribs, bruises and lacerations all over her body and now has chronic back pain, figured the driver, a woman later charged with attempted murder, would be found guilty and sentenced.

That has not turned out to be the case. In an irony only a police officer in Chicago could understand, Murphy has now turned into the accused, fighting for her professional life and reputation.

One theme emerging in her evolution from victim to the accused is a disturbing relationship between the city agency that ostensibly investigates police misconduct, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and the fervently anti-police media in the city.

Consider what happened to Murphy after the incident. The woman accused of dragging Murphy under her car, though charged by prosecutors with attempted murder, initially filed a complaint with IPRA, alleging misconduct on the part of Murphy. But the allegations against her went nowhere and the case was closed with no finding of wrongdoing, Murphy told Crooked City.

Then something amazing happened. The woman’s claims were taken up by a local reporter with a long history of anti-police bias, CBS reporter Dave Savini.

Savini aired several pieces attacking Murphy and repeating the accusations against the decorated officer that had been dismissed by IPRA.

None of Savini’s segments on Murphy mentioned the extremely compelling fact that the case had already been investigated and closed by IPRA. Nevertheless, Savini did stake out Murphy, following her as she went shopping and traveled to and from work, trying to get a statement from her.

Social Media Threats Against Murphy In Response to CBS Stories by Dave Savini

Social Media Threats Against Murphy In Response to CBS Stories by Dave Savini

Savini also dug into the complaint history of Murphy, as if these complaints signified she was a crooked police officer, even though all but one of the complaints was dismissed without any discipline against Murphy. Savini also failed to cite the long list of commendations, awards, and honorable mentions Murphy had accrued throughout her career, a career that garnered the respect of other officers and her supervisors.

Savini’s one-sided media hit jobs on Murphy were wildly successful in resurrecting the complaints once dismissed against her.

After they were aired, Murphy was notified that IPRA was reopening an investigation against her, an investigation that is still pending.

And, of course, the driver filed a lawsuit against the city.

The whole affair points to a disturbing, symbiotic relationship between IPRA and the local media. The media pushes their allegations in their hit jobs, IPRA responds in kind, opening up a new investigation or re-opening a closed one. Then the media can run in their stories that IPRA has taken up the allegations, as if it this opening of an investigation is another sign of the officer’s culpability.  

The case against Murphy is one possible sign of the strange connection between IPRA and the local media. But last week, accusations of media bias exploded again with the filing of a massive lawsuit by a top Chicago police commander in the city.  

Lawyers for Chicago Police Commander Glenn Evans, acquitted late last year of nine felony counts claiming Evans abused a gang member, Rickey Williams, during an arrest, allege misconduct between investigators at IPRA and a reporter for a public radio station. In the complaint, Evans’ attorney, Victor Henderson, states that former IPRA investigator, Martrice Campbell, released information about the IPRA investigation to the media against IPRA policies, and, according to Henderson, possibly even illegally.

CPD Commander Glenn Evans

CPD Commander Glenn Evans

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Campbell released a report from the state police citing the presence of Williams’ DNA on a sample taken from Evans’ pistol a day after Evans arrested Williams on the south side. The lawsuit alleges Campbell released this report to WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell.

When he found out about the leak, the head of IPRA, Scott Ando, reported it to both the city’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI.

From the lawsuit:  

In his complaint to the OIG, Ando stated that the person who leaked this information “has obstructed an official investigation and can be charged with a felony.”

It’s not just the leak of information that Henderson cites in the lawsuit. He also alleges that the manner in which the DNA report was portrayed in several stories by WBEZ reporter Chip Mitchell was also false.

Henderson argues that WBEZ portrayed the report of Rickey Williams’ DNA on the Evans’ gun as a sign of Evans’ culpability. But, Henderson argues, it indicates no such thing.

From the lawsuit:

Mitchell then began a crusade against Evans by publishing a series of stories in print and on-air about allegations of misconduct.

Henderson is not alone in making these claims that the WBEZ stories claiming the DNA report pointed to Evans’ guilt were not true.

When Evans was acquitted of all criminal charges, Judge Diane Cannon stated the presence of Williams’ DNA on Evans’ gun was not conclusive of any criminal behavior.

The sample of Rickey Williams that was obtained from Evans’ gun could easily be the result of contact between the two men in the course of Evans arresting Williams, she said.

In a statement released by WBEZ, Bill Calhoun denies any wrongdoing by Mitchell or the station:

The complaint against WBEZ and Chip Mitchell is totally baseless, and we will defend the matter vigorously.

But the coverage of Evans and IPRA after Evans’ acquittal may also suggest an inappropriate relationship between IPRA and the media.

Despite the fact that a large body of evidence emerged indicating wrongdoing at IPRA, the local media has remained silent about it. Instead, they have doubled down on allegations of wrongdoing against Evans.

This doubling down--rather than investigating the evidence of corruption at IPRA that arose in Evans’ trial--could be construed as yet another sign of collusion between the media and IPRA.

Consider the reporting of Chicago Tribune reporter Jeremy Gorner. It’s been a year since criminal charges against Evans imploded in the course of his trial. Nevertheless, Gorner has refused to unleash his investigative powers on this apparent corruption. Instead, he has relied more heavily on the claims of IPRA after the trial to paint a broad picture of corruption against Evans and suggest that the highly decorated commander should be fired.

Gorner does so by giving wide latitude to the IPRA claim that Evans abused a long-troubled woman with a vast criminal history when she became combative as officers were trying to process her as an arrestee.

The woman claimed that Evans broke her nose.

Gorner has been all over these allegations.

But wait a minute. Wouldn’t a legitimate journalist at least mention the evidence that IPRA had committed misconduct against Evans that came forth during his criminal trial to at least lend some balance or reason to another claim by the same institution against Evans?

Without such balance, how could a news article appear as anything but a contrived hit piece against Evans and the police in general? That, in and of itself is troubling enough, but consider what Gorner leaves out in the rest of his article.

In light of the claims that Evans broke the woman’s nose, Gorner never mentions the key statement of a medical doctor indicating that the broken nose the woman complained about was several days old. In other words, a medical doctor stated the woman was not injured the night she was arrested, but well before, when she was not in police custody.

This doctor’s statement is nowhere to be found in Gorner’s article.

And isn’t Gorner missing the larger, equally feasible significance of IPRA resurrecting allegations against Evans after IPRA’s so-called investigation against Evans had been brutally defeated and disgraced in a criminal trial: the agency is desperately trying to find something to justify their wholesale attack on his character and career, so they are drudging up new allegations to justify their previous ones?

Perhaps Gorner would acknowledge it, if the Chicago media wasn’t trying to do the exact same thing.

It sometimes gets tough to see how anyone could call Gorner’s articles legitimate journalism. 

There are other parts of Gorner’s article equally troubling. Here’s a humdinger.

Gorner references the criminal case against Evans, the one he beat:

…a Cook County judge acquitted Evans despite DNA evidence

Wait a minute. Gorner makes it sound as if Judge Cannon made a frivolous, biased ruling, as if she ignored the significance of the DNA evidence. But the trial record shows that that was clearly not the case. The experts who testified for both sides at the trial admitted that the DNA could have been made from incidental contact between Evans and the arrestee, Williams. What other choice could a fair-minded judge make in light of such testimony?

As it is, Evans’ lawsuit gives expression to the frustration and anger many police and prosecutors feel toward Chicago’s media.

One of the more despicable aspects of Dave Savini’s hit pieces on Officer Murphy, for example, was the fact that he broadcast her vehicle and license plates, which could be used to find out personal information, including her address. Only after numerous complaints that she feared for her safety and that of her child—at a time when vicious attacks on the police are skyrocketing--did CBS finally edit out her plates, but by then the stories had been airing for weeks.

Murphy will, like every cop in the city, watch the Evans lawsuit closely. It contains a narrative no journalist in the city has ever explored. This narrative will face the rules of evidence in a legal proceeding, just as the criminal allegations against Evans did.

In the criminal case, every allegation against Evans fell apart, and a large body of evidence pointed to Evans’ accusers.

It was a rare and powerful victory in the most Crooked City. 

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