Home News With logjam over police discipline broken, Snelling faces early leadership test

With logjam over police discipline broken, Snelling faces early leadership test

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Since he was named Chicago police superintendent last year, Larry Snelling has repeatedly called for fairness toward officers accused of wrongdoing, and accountability for those who’ve committed misconduct.

And now, as the future of police discipline in Chicago comes into focus after months of uncertainty, Snelling faces a test of sorts: deciding the professional fates of more than two dozen officers facing firing whose folders remain on his desk. The new superintendent is very familiar with one of them — an officer who worked under Snelling when the police boss was a lieutenant in Englewood.

Snelling must decide if the Chicago Police Department should seek to fire that officer, who has faced an unusually high number of misconduct allegations, including several that were sustained, and whom the department has suspended at least three times already in his 15 years as a Chicago police officer.

Roger Farias, 39, is one of 28 cops who were recommended for firing by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, in the first two months of the year, according to an agency source familiar with the decision but not authorized to speak publicly, and confirmed through other sources. Records obtained by the Tribune show Farias has been the subject of 68 misconduct investigations since the department hired him in 2009.

According to a CPD spokesperson, Farias remained on active duty as of Wednesday as a patrol officer in the Englewood District (7th), where he’s been assigned for most of his career — including a stretch under Snelling’s supervision from mid-2019 through late 2020.

A judge in recent weeks found police officers accused of serious misconduct can choose third-party arbitration, as awarded during contract negotiations, but that those proceedings still should be public. There are now 10 pending investigations, by both CPD and COPA, into alleged misconduct by Farias, records show. Those investigations started after Sept. 14, 2022 — the date that an arbitrator was appointed to oversee Fraternal Order of Police contract negotiations with the city — and would be eligible for arbitration.

Farias was accused of misconduct 14 times in the 18 months that Snelling was his lieutenant and commander in Englewood. COPA sustained allegations in two of those cases, records show. One of those stemmed from a November 2019 incident at a River North nightclub where the off-duty Farias, a sergeant and a lieutenant were accused of conspiring to bring bogus criminal charges against a bouncer after Farias refused to leave at last call.

Farias’ first suspension came after he disregarded an order to stop a vehicle pursuit, and his second was for his failure to properly document an arrest. He was suspended a third time for, again, failing to complete requisite paperwork after an investigatory stop. Former interim Superintendent Charlie Beck specifically called for Farias to receive more training after that case was adjudicated.

Throughout his career, while assigned to some of the most violent areas of the city, Farias has been dogged by allegations of Fourth Amendment violations and excessive force, some involving Taser uses and at least one alleged chokehold. Accusations of unprofessional conduct and discourteous treatment of citizens have followed, too.

Along the way, the department heaped praise on Farias.

“Officer Farias has received ninety-nine (99) awards in his 10 year career, including four (4) Complimentary Letters, two (2) Department Commendations, one (1) Unit Meritorious Performance Award, and eighty-one (81) honorable mentions,” Beck wrote in early 2020.

A CPD spokesperson, citing the case’s pendency, declined to comment on COPA’s recommendation and did not answer questions about Snelling’s time overseeing Farias in Englewood.

Snelling lashes out

Just weeks ago, Snelling publicly lambasted COPA as biased and unfair. Now, though, the superintendent must decide if he agrees with the agency’s conclusion that an officer, one with several sustained misconduct allegations while under his own direct supervision, is unfit for the department.

“If we have officers who are guilty of willful wrongdoing and they’re acting negatively and egregiously with misconduct, they should be held accountable all the way up to separation,” Snelling said during the Chicago Police Board’s February meeting.

“But when we have officers who make mistakes, we should consider that it’s a mistake as opposed to willful wrongdoing,” he said. “Mistakes are usually corrected through training. A lot of times, mistakes are made because someone is uneducated, uninformed or undertrained. Willful wrongdoing, those officers have no place on this department or wearing a uniform. It’s that simple. We will hold our own accountable.”

Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), second from left, talks with Chicago police Supt. Larry Snelling, right, before a Chicago Police Board meeting at police headquarters, Feb. 22, 2024, in Chicago. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)
Andrea Kersten, chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, second from left, talks with Chicago police Superintendent Larry Snelling, right, before a Chicago Police Board meeting at police headquarters on Feb. 22, 2024. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Snelling — whose experience and credentials as an instructor in the CPD training academy bolstered his bid to become superintendent last year — has already shown a willingness to seek greater punishment for officers.

Last October, the Chicago Police Board voted to acquit an officer of misconduct allegations that stemmed from a chaotic arrest scene during the unrest of 2020. That officer, James Hunt, was previously cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal 2014 shooting of a 17-year-old boy in the Chatham neighborhood. Four years after that, Hunt was captured on cellphone video telling two men, “I kill (expletives).”

After the Police Board cleared Hunt of the charges against him, Snelling filed a still-pending appeal in Cook County Circuit Court, asking a judge to reconsider the board’s acquittal of Hunt. It’s the first such request made by a CPD superintendent since 2015, court records show.

A time of uncertainty

The city’s police discipline apparatus has remained in flux for much of the last nine months.

In summer 2023, the neutral chair overseeing contract negotiations between the city and Fraternal Order of Police ruled that CPD officers, as public sector employees represented by a collective bargaining unit, are entitled to closed-door arbitration proceedings in the most serious cases of alleged misconduct if they so choose.

The arbitration award was met with resistance from Mayor Brandon Johnson, police accountability advocates and more left-leaning members of the City Council, and Johnson opted to split the vote into two. The first vote addressed the economic package of the contract, which provided officers and detectives with a 20% raise over four years, while also creating a new disciplinary mechanism: the “People’s Court.”

The People’s Court will allow for single-day adjudications, overseen by a single arbitrator, in CPD disciplinary cases where the maximum punishment is a 30-day suspension — the vast majority of all police discipline cases. People’s Court cases will not be recorded by a court reporter.

John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, reacts while aldermen discuss the police union arbitration deal at the City Council meeting at City Hall on Feb. 15, 2024. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)
John Catanzara, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, reacts while aldermen discuss the police union arbitration deal at the City Council meeting at City Hall on Feb. 15, 2024. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune)

The City Council thrice voted down the arbitration award. The FOP sued the city, alleging violations of state labor law, and asked Cook County Judge Michael Mullen to order the arbitration award into effect despite the City Council’s rejections.

As he weighed the case, Mullen ordered that more than 20 pending Police Board cases be frozen. Mullen issued a ruling earlier this month that still gives officers the choice of an arbitrator or the Police Board, but those proceedings must remain publicly accessible.

The arbitration option will be available to officers accused of serious misconduct in incidents that occurred after Sept. 14, 2022 — the date when Edwin Benn, the neutral chair, was appointed to oversee contract negotiations between the city and the FOP.

Union president John Catanzara told the Tribune that the FOP planned next week to file an appeal to Mullen’s ruling. He also criticized COPA for closing more than 140 misconduct investigations in the first two months of the year. That deluge of cases, COPA’s chief administrator said, was a byproduct of the City Council’s approval of half of the new FOP contract, which required the agency to complete any investigation more than 18 months old or let it be forfeited.

“You can’t make a termination determination sooner than 18 months?” Catanzara said. “Then you don’t really have much of a case and you are searching for a reason to (expletive) with an officer.”

Farias targeted in court

Court records indicate Farias has been the subject of at least six federal lawsuits.

Most recently, he was one of six officers named as defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit that stems from an August 2022 police shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. The man who was shot was later charged with aggravated assault to a police officer and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and those charges remain pending.

That man, 23 at the time he was shot by police, was charged in a separate 2021 case with illegally possessing a Glock handgun, modified with a switch, as well as a drum magazine and rifle. That criminal case remains pending, as well.

Records from Cook County Circuit Court, meanwhile, detail an incident at a River North nightclub for which COPA recommended Farias be fired from CPD.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, the off-duty Farias was among a group of four barhopping along West Chicago Avenue. As Saturday turned to Sunday, the group headed to a nightclub, and Farias showed the bar’s employees his CPD credentials upon entering. It was alleged that Farias insisted on special treatment because he was a police officer, and that he refused to head for the exit after the bar’s staff announced “last call.”

“Despite some courtesy and the passage of additional time, Officer Farias became increasingly disrespectful and defiant,” court records alleged. “He made it clear — to anyone who would listen — that he was a police officer, and that he would leave the establishment when he was ‘good and ready.’ Officer Farias refused to cooperate with (the bar staff’s) efforts to close the establishment in compliance with their liquor license and Illinois law.”

It was alleged that Farias grew more combative and struck a bar security guard in the neck with his forearm and elbow. Farias was soon thrown out of the nightclub, though he called 911 and reported that he was the victim of a battery and needed a department supervisor to respond to the scene. It was also alleged that Farias, as he was being kicked out, used a racial slur when referring to a Black member of the bar’s security staff.

A CPD sergeant and lieutenant soon arrived at the scene, and Farias alleged that the Black security guard — who was not involved with Farias’ ejection — battered him. The security guard was arrested, and the criminal case against him continued until September 2021 when it was stricken from the court docket, records show.

While that criminal case progressed, Farias filed a lawsuit against the security guard and the bar. He alleged that the nightclub was negligent for failing to train its staff and prevent him from being attacked.

Court records show that lawsuit concluded in January 2023, but it was not clear if any settlement was reached.

After his criminal case was adjudicated, the security guard filed his own lawsuit against Farias and the city.

“Roger Farias not only directed the arrest and incarceration of Plaintiff (the security guard),” the suit stated, “he perpetuated the criminal prosecution (which remained pending for almost two years) and initiated a civil lawsuit (which also remained pending for over two years) to conceal his official abuses and deter (the security guard) from cooperating with the still-pending COPA investigation and bringing the instant civil rights lawsuit.”

Court records show the security guard has since been charged with armed robbery and unlawful restraint in two pending criminal cases. He remains held at the Cook County Jail.

Police use of force

A 2021 article published in the academic journal Criminology & Public Policy examined data on CPD use-of-force incidents between September 2012 and September 2017.

The authors detailed the difficulty in identifying problematic Chicago police officers early in their careers. A predictive analysis found that removing those officers and replacing them with midtier officers would lead to only a modest reduction — 4% to 6% — in use-of-force complaints over 10 years.

“Our conclusion is that while incapacitating predictably problematic officers serve an important instrumental purpose, this practice is, in of itself, unlikely to lead to a large reduction in use of force complaints, absent appreciable deterrence or spillover effects, or broader cultural change,” the authors wrote. “As such, early warning systems should be designed to promote accountability among a broader set of officers, rather than to serve as a narrowly tailored tool to surgically remove high-risk personnel.”



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