- Nov 20, 1999
This is probably the most broken system i have ever read. That's really horrifying. Glad i don't live in Chi-town.
This is probably the most broken system i have ever read. That's really horrifying. Glad i don't live in Chi-town.
On a summer night in 2003, two patrol cars pulled over a driver in front of his South Side home for running a stop sign. Thinking police had chased the car earlier that night, four officers drew their guns and ordered the driver out.
The man's mother screamed from the sidewalk: "He can't walk! He's paralyzed! He can't get out of the car!"
When one officer thought the driver raised a gun, he opened fire, shooting the driver five times before reloading and shooting him once more.
Eight hours later, as Cornelius Ware, a 20-year-old paraplegic who drove by pushing the pedals with a wooden cane, lay gravely wounded in the hospital, police supervisors cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.
They didn't check the direction of the bullets. They didn't interview all the witnesses, two of whom said they saw Ware's hands raised in surrender. And they didn't wait for the autopsy report, which showed two of the bullets struck him in the back of his hands.
Authorities never challenged that preliminary conclusion, even when contradictory information emerged in the days and months that followed.
Far from an egregious exception, the Chicago Police Department's handling of the Ware case fits a pattern of officials rushing to clear officers who shoot civilians, an eight-month Tribune investigation found.
The inquiry, which reviewed available records for more than 200 police shooting cases over the last decade, found that these cursory police investigations create a separate standard of justice and fuel the fear among some citizens that officers can shoot people with impunity.
In at least a dozen cases, police shot civilians in the back or from behind. But in the Ware case, as in many other police shootings, it took a civil suit for the troubling details of the case to emerge publicly.
Shootings are rarely easy calls. Officers face potentially life-or-death situations that require an instantaneous decision: to shoot or not to shoot. In many instances the use of deadly force is justified, and that decision saves lives. But other times, police have shot innocent, unarmed people.
Those shootings have helped fuel public outcry over excessive force and misconduct. In announcing his selection of FBI official Jody Weis as the city's new top cop, Mayor Richard Daley last week acknowledged the need to repair the department's credibility.
The mayor's recent attempts at reform have focused almost exclusively on the Office of Professional Standards, the civilian oversight agency that until recently was part of the Police Department. But the Tribune's investigation found that while the agency's lack of resources and expertise has made it ineffective, the problem goes deeper than one office.
Law enforcement officials at all levels, from the detectives who investigate cases to the superintendent, as well as the state's attorney's office, have failed to properly police the police.
Promises to improve the system also haven't touched another fundamental flaw: the hasty meetings, known as roundtables, led by police commanders in the charged hours after a Chicago officer shoots a civilian. Witnesses are not sworn. The discussions are not recorded. When the sessions conclude, officials nearly always decide the officer was justified in pulling the trigger.
And if evidence eventually contradicts the officers' versions of events, the Tribune found that cases aren't reopened and the officers escape serious punishment.
Chicago police shoot a civilian on average once every 10 days. More than 100 people have been killed in the last decade; 250 others have been injured. But only a tiny fraction of shootings are ruled unjustified -- less than 1 percent, police records and court testimony indicate.
Despite these rulings, police shootings have led to $59 million in settlements and civil judgments against the city in the last decade, including nearly $8 million from just two jury verdicts in recent months.
The newspaper reviewed thousands of pages of documents from authorities' internal investigative files, Cook County medical examiner autopsies and depositions from lawsuits filed after police shootings. The paper sought complete case files, but the Police Department denied a Freedom of Information Act request for its records on such cases.
The combination of this secrecy and the perfunctory investigation of police shootings means that it is virtually impossible to determine how many were in fact legitimate.
The Tribune this summer filed a motion in federal court, still pending, that seeks to unseal more than 50 police shooting files turned over in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a man who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2002.
Wrongful death lawsuits often prompt the only full accounting of shootings and the internal investigations that follow.
In a recent suit filed by Ware's family, a veteran detective who has been the lead investigator in numerous police shootings testified that she handles too many cases to go back and re-interview officers and reconsider roundtable rulings when autopsies and other test results shed new light.
"Once a case is closed, it's closed," said Sylvia VanWitzenburg.
"Your testimony is, once you close out a [police shooting] case, no matter what new information comes in, you're not going to go back and review it?" asked the attorney representing Ware's family.
"Correct," she replied.
Shot in the back
All police shootings of civilians prompt an array of questions, but none do so more than when an officer fires at someone from behind.
In the 12 cases the Tribune found where Chicago police shot a civilian in the back, sometimes at close range, the department returned the officers to duty, according to records from police and the Office of Professional Standards, or OPS.
In five of those cases, forensic evidence cast doubt on the officer's account.
To ensure officers don't wrongly pull the trigger, police departments set restrictions on when lethal force can be used. Chicago police may use such force only as a last resort "to prevent death or great bodily harm to the [officer] or to another person," according to the department's general orders. In certain instances, officers also may shoot if a suspect is trying to escape while using a deadly weapon or endangering the life of another person.
In preparing new recruits to make such shoot-don't shoot decisions, they go through exercises such as traffic stops played out in the academy parking lot or simulated gunmen holding hostages.
But this training for recruits was put in place within the last five years. The majority of the department's 13,000 officers only have to qualify each year with their gun on the firing range.
On the street, when a shooting is inappropriate, autopsies can help reveal the contradictions in a police officer's version of how it occurred. But it's up to police and OPS investigators to make that connection and follow up.
Edmund Donoghue, former chief medical examiner in Cook County, said he was not surprised to see cursory investigations. "When you see this stuff going on for 30 years, you don't expect much," said Donoghue, who retired last year. "Come on. This is Chicago."
The autopsy of Cornelius Ware became a key part of his family's lawsuit against the city.
He was shot on South Loomis Boulevard at 7:35 p.m. on Aug. 18, 2003. The lead police investigator, VanWitzenburg, later testified that she arrived about a half hour later to find the four officers involved -- part of a plainclothes unit that had worked closely together for two years -- huddled with a sergeant and union representative.
VanWitzenburg said she did not interview the officers separately or ask them detailed questions, but simply listened to the group explain what happened.
The proper investigative technique, according to interim Chicago Police Supt. Dana Starks "is to separate witnesses no matter who they are."
But that's not always done, the Tribune found. In fact, allowing officers to talk to each other after a shooting has been permitted by department rules since they were rewritten in 1999. A police spokeswoman could not explain this week why the change occurred.
In the Ware case, when VanWitzenburg did speak with officers individually hours later at the police station, she said she did not question them as much as take statements.
She also took no notes, she said, committing each witness statement to memory and sometime later recording those words in what would become the main report on the shooting. VanWitzenburg could not be reached for comment.
Three of Ware's brothers who witnessed the shooting -- a 15-year-old and 13-year-old twins -- all told detectives at the scene that their brother had his hands up.
But in their final report completed weeks later, police recorded these witness statements much differently. A statement by one of the twins that he saw his brother "raise his hands" and a statement by the other twin that Ware had his "hands up" were changed to the twins saying their brother "put his hands together" before being shot.
VanWitzenburg later testified that she did no further investigation after the roundtable.
The subsequent inquiry by OPS, recently renamed the Independent Police Review Authority, was even less thorough. The case's lead investigator, James Lukas, acknowledged in a sworn deposition that he did not conduct a single interview.
He said he simply reviewed the roundtable proceedings and other police reports -- common practice, he testified, because the oversight agency frequently relies on the police to do a good job investigating officers. Lukas said each shooting is unique, however, and that his office might conduct more interviews in some cases than others.
Eighteen days after Ware was shot, he died of his injuries. The autopsy showed he had been hit, among other locations, in the back of each hand, lending support to the argument that he had his hands in the air in surrender.
But police did not re-interview the officers to find out how that could have happened. Officer Anthony Blake, who fired the shots, could not be reached for comment for this article.
Blake told investigators that he fired his gun because Ware pointed a weapon at his partner. Blake also said he never heard Ware's relatives shouting that he was paralyzed.
When the Ware family sued in 2004, Blake testified and contradicted himself about why he had his gun drawn and when he fired his weapon.
All four officers at the scene said they thought they saw a gun in Ware's hand, and police said they recovered a loaded revolver in his car.
But no blood was found on the weapon, even though Ware was purportedly holding it when he was shot in both hands; Ware family attorneys argued that police planted the gun to cover up a bad shooting.
At the end of a trial early this year, the jury sided with the Wares. Before jurors were asked to decide how much money the family should receive in damages, the city agreed to pay $5.3 million -- one of the largest settlements in a Chicago police shooting.
In a deposition prior to trial, VanWitzenburg was asked if she reviewed the autopsy records documenting Ware's bullet wounds to determine if Blake was telling the truth.
"To this day," she said, "I don't know what were entry [wounds] and what were exit."
'A way to quickly justify cases'
The roundtable, held inside a detective-area headquarters in the immediate aftermath of a police shooting, is supposed to provide a timely and preliminary review.
"There's no way in the world that an investigation can be immediately closed right then and there," Starks said, "when we know ... there's still forensics out and still witnesses who need to be interviewed."
But the Tribune found that instead of being a launching point for a thorough investigation, the roundtable can set the tone for the frequently superficial inquiry that follows.
"To me, the roundtable is just a way to quickly justify cases," said Thomas Smith, chief investigator for OPS from 1998 to 2002, when he left the agency.
Roundtable proceedings are generally secret. Minutes aren't kept. Many participants throw away their handwritten notes.
And city attorneys, often with the consent of plaintiffs' lawyers, successfully have sought to place protective orders on court files in dozens of cases to keep certain records, including roundtable reports from public view. But the Tribune obtained official roundtable reports in dozens of cases prepared by commanders as well as detective summaries of the proceedings. Both provide a rare inside look at the meetings.
Roundtables usually begin with the lead detective giving an overview of the shooting, referring to a hand-drawn diagram on the blackboard or grease board. Basic physical evidence often is not available or is sometimes neglected. Witnesses are brought in one at a time to give brief statements, but these are not under oath or recorded. Sometimes, key witnesses aren't even there.
The Cook County state's attorney's office sends prosecutors to the roundtable, but they often are passive observers.
Michael Oppenheimer, a prosecutor in the state's attorney's office from 1990 to 2003, said he attended numerous roundtables and that he was told by his superiors not to ask questions. He said he and other prosecutors were there as "window dressing" to lend an air of credibility to the process.
"The brevity of the investigation is unbelievable. It's just faulty," said Oppenheimer, now a private attorney representing plaintiffs in civil rights suits, including a man shot by police.
Even those still in the ranks of law enforcement express misgivings about the roundtable.
In an interview, State's Atty. Richard Devine rejected the notion that prosecutors stood by as bad shootings were ruled justified. But he acknowledged that assistant state's attorneys may have been unsure about their role in the process. "I do think a lot of assistants were up in the air," he said.
Devine said he had considered pulling his office out of the process altogether and now says he hopes to improve it by staying in. But he declined to say how.
Under the current roundtable system, the assistant deputy police superintendent in attendance must complete a report on the evidence before the end of the work shift. At that point, the police inquiry virtually ends, though detectives still can continue to follow leads.
OPS investigators look into every police shooting, but these inquiries sometimes consist of little more than rehashing the brief roundtable proceedings.
An officer's fatal shooting of Lajuanzo Brooks outside a South Side tavern in 2001 ultimately led to a $650,000 payout from the city. The suit also shed light on how internal investigations can skim over key evidence during and after the roundtable.
Brooks, 21, allegedly approached Officer Robert Haile, who was off duty, and a friend just before closing time at Reese's Lounge, pulled a gun and demanded money. The officer said he drew his gun and yelled "Police!"
Haile told police detectives that Brooks continued to point his gun at him, so Haile opened fire. According to Haile, Brooks was facing him at this point, only 2 to 3 feet away. The officer said that as he was shooting, Brooks lunged toward and past him, with the officer shifting his feet to keep Brooks in front of him.
Six hours later, after the roundtable, Haile was cleared of wrongdoing.
But this decision was made before all of the physical evidence was in hand. The autopsy on Brooks wouldn't be complete until later that morning. The fingerprints wouldn't come back for two months.
The morning of the roundtable, Eupil Choi, Cook County's deputy chief medical examiner, began the autopsy. He saw that Brooks had several bullet wounds on his body. By studying the tiny skin abrasions around each hole, he could determine which one was a bullet entry point and which one was an exit wound. He concluded Brooks was shot three times: twice in the back and once in the back of the neck.
In his deposition for a lawsuit filed by Brooks' family, Choi said he could not say how Brooks and Haile were positioned when the shots were fired. But he said the wounds were consistent with Brooks being shot from behind.
Yet investigators for the Office of Professional Standards never sought to explain the seeming discrepancy between the autopsy and Haile's statements.
Other evidence was coming in that raised questions about the shooting. Police recovered two prints off the gun that Brooks allegedly used in an attempt to rob Haile. They did not match up to Brooks.
The OPS investigators never interviewed the officer. Haile could not be reached to comment for this article.
Smith, the chief investigator at OPS at the time, signed off on the shooting as justified. Smith acknowledged in an interview that the office neglected to fully follow through on the case. He said that was partly due to the office's limited resources.
Today, it is budgeted for 85 positions. Despite the mayor's pledges to improve the system, 24 of those positions remain vacant, 15 of them for investigators. That means the investigators who remain carry average loads of 30 shooting and other cases, three times what officials there recommend.
Even in instances where investigators aggressively did their job, police officials have ignored recommendations for serious punishment of officers.
Officer David Rodriguez asserted that he shot Herbert McCarter in the abdomen in a struggle over the officer's gun in December 1999. But Smith concluded Rodriguez lied and recommended his firing, according to Smith and a lawsuit filed by McCarter.
Key to that recommendation: medical records showing that McCarter actually had been shot in the back, and gunshot residue tests on his clothes indicating he had not been shot at close range.
Rodriguez, who declined to comment, remains a police officer. According to McCarter's lawsuit, no disciplinary action was taken despite the OPS chief investigator's conclusion.
McCarter, however, was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer. He was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
In his 2006 lawsuit, McCarter alleged that city officials hid the OPS conclusions and recommendation from his lawyer in his criminal trial. The city settled McCarter's lawsuit for $90,000 this year.
Rodriguez also was sued for an incident after the 1998 Chicago Bulls triumph in the NBA Finals.
With streets all over the city filled with revelers, Rodriguez was one of several officers outside a liquor store on the West Side. When a car jumped the curb, officers opened fire, spraying the car with dozens of bullets.
Six people were shot, including a 15-year-old boy who lost an eye. An investigation found the officers, including Rodriguez, justified in the shooting. This spring, the city settled the two lawsuits that stemmed from that shooting.
The price tag: a total of $4 million.
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How a police shooting investigation works
Local law enforcement officials conduct an inquiry into every police shooting.
AT THE SCENE
Numerous Chicago police officers rush to the scene, each with an assigned duty, from controlling the crowd to interviewing witnesses. They make sure the name of the officer who fired is not broadcast over the police radio.
AT THE ROUNDTABLE
A short time later, the officers and others head to a police area headquarters for a roundtable meeting. Panel members include police commanders, one or two prosecutors from the Cook County state's attorney?s office, one or two investiga- tors from the Office of Professional Standards. A union representative also attends.
AFTER THE ROUNDTABLE
The roundtable completes its work often within an hour. Detectives finish their investigation in days or weeks while the Office of Professional Standards, recently renamed the Independent Police Review Authority, can take months until its investigation is complete. Until recently, the office had reported to the police superintendent. It is now independent, but its recommendations are not binding.
Hours after Officer Phyllis Clinkscales fatally shot a young man trying to steal her car, Chicago police investigators and commanders ruled the shooting justified.
They have stood by that conclusion even as she gave differing accounts of what happened the night she shot 17-year-old Robert Washington in June 2000.
They stood by her even though all four of the gunshot wounds were on the back right side of Washington's head and neck, including a "muzzle imprint" that suggested the gun barrel had been pressed against his skin.
They stood by her even after the department's civilian oversight agency found her account didn't square with the autopsy on Washington and initially recommended she be fired.
The ruling that cleared Clinkscales stood unquestioned for several years -- until last week, when inquiries from the Tribune prompted the Cook County state's attorney's office to open an investigation into Washington's death.
"We saw the results of the autopsy. That piqued our interest," said John Gorman, chief spokesman for the office, which reviewed the shooting shortly after it occurred and took no action. "We're going to look at all aspects of it. What was said, what the evidence was, what our decision was, why our decision was made."
The shooting of Washington underscores questions about how thoroughly authorities investigate officers' off-duty conduct. One of the most striking examples of this: In some cases where officers might have been under the influence of alcohol during a shooting, officials leading those investigations delayed administering Breathalyzer tests for hours.
In the case of Clinkscales, records and interviews indicate, investigators didn't administer one at all, although she was returning from a wedding reception at a tavern at 3 a.m. when she shot Washington.
Instead of treating off-duty shootings as matters deserving rigorous inquiry, a Tribune investigation found that Chicago police officials have viewed the shootings as administrative issues and treated officers with deference.
In some of those off-duty cases, the officers were drinking at bars and nightclubs. Some were in traffic disputes. Others were quarreling over women or fighting in the street.
About one quarter of police shootings each year occur while officers are off duty, out of uniform and often engaged in nothing that resembles police work, according to an eight-month Tribune investigation of police shootings of civilians over the past decade. Yet those officers rarely face serious punishment.
Off-duty Chicago police officers were involved in 11 of 45 shootings of civilians in 2006, the last year for which complete statistics are available. In 2005, 11 of 39 shootings involved off-duty officers, according to figures provided by the Police Department and its civilian arm, the Office of Professional Standards, or OPS.
"Even when it was clearly apparent that what [an officer] did was wrong, they still got all the protections as if they were [an on-duty] policeman and were doing police work," said Thomas Smith, a former FBI agent who was the chief investigator for OPS from 1998 to early 2002. "They look for the littlest thing to try to show he was really doing police work."
Detective Francisco Roman, who shot and wounded a man during an off-duty incident in 1997, rejected that assertion. "You don't catch a break," he said in an interview. "They treated me like they were supposed to."
Roman's case, however, shows what happens when detectives realize they are dealing with a colleague and not a regular citizen.
The shooting took place at 3:30 a.m. as Roman, clad in a T-shirt and jeans, was driving back to his Pilsen home from a Halloween party. He stopped his car to confront a group of men who he said had stepped in front of his car at a street corner near his home. Roman said he fired his weapon after the men brandished a beer bottle and a knife, though neither object was found.
The men told investigators they merely were standing at the corner when Roman approached them.
The first patrolmen who responded to the shooting handcuffed Roman and put him in the back of a squad car. But when officers on the scene realized he was a policeman, they removed the handcuffs and released him from custody, according to Roman's testimony in the criminal trial of the man he shot.
The city later paid the man $625,000 to settle the lawsuit.
Basic steps often ignored
Even when Chicago officers are off the clock and out of uniform, they are obligated to respond to emergencies. For that reason, off-duty officers are allowed to carry their gun and badge.
At the same time, off-duty officers must abide by a simple department regulation: If they are going to drink alcohol, they cannot carry their gun.
In cases where off-duty officers are suspected of drinking, a Breathalyzer test could determine whether they were drinking and how much. Yet when off-duty officers shoot civilians in and around bars or after attending parties, investigators in Chicago often fail to take that basic step.
Police in some cities, such as Milwaukee, are ordered to submit a urine sample to test for drugs after a shooting. If two supervisors suspect the officer was under the influence of alcohol, the officer also must take a Breathalyzer. "If you're in a bar with a gun, you're going to be tested -- and quick," said John Balcerzak, the president of the Milwaukee police union.
After an incident last year in which an unarmed man was shot and killed by officers working undercover in a strip club, New York City police began testing officers for alcohol after all shootings of civilians.
In Chicago, even when testing is done, police sometimes wait so long that the results are compromised. Smith said he complained to commanders at shooting scenes that they often delayed tests for hours, allowing the officer's blood-alcohol level to fall within the legal limit.
In one 2003 case, where an off-duty officer shot into a crowd of people, killing a man during an attempted carjacking outside a River North bar, detectives did not give the officer a breath test until more than 5 hours after the 3:30 a.m. shooting, police records indicate.
Officials at OPS eventually began to use chemists to try to determine officers' blood-alcohol level at the time of a shooting by extrapolating backward. It was, Smith said, a way to combat the lengths he believed police investigators would go to protect their own.
OPS sought such an expert after off-duty Officer Darrell Carrothers shot Javon Boyd in November 2000 outside Rodney's Cocktail Lounge, a popular sports bar at Michigan Avenue and East 71st Street.
As the bar closed and everyone left, Carrothers approached a woman outside the bar, according to police reports. Her friends objected and confronted Carrothers, sparking a fight. The officer said he was attacked by several men and beaten. Someone, he said, yelled, "Kill the [expletive]."
Boyd, he said, pointed a gun at him. So, Carrothers told investigators, he pulled his gun and fired three times at Boyd, wounding him with one shot to the back of the right thigh.
Boyd, 23 at the time, offered a different account to investigators. He said Carrothers was beating on his friend so he jumped in to try to break up the fight. When he saw Carrothers reach for a gun he tried to punch him, though he was not sure his punch landed.
Then, he told investigators, he ran. Carrothers "just started shooting," Boyd said. "He didn't say nothing, just started shooting."
Boyd denied he had a gun, and police never found one. He said he did not know at the time that Carrothers was a police officer.
Carrothers declined to comment for this story.
It was not until 10 a.m., about seven hours after the shooting, that Carrothers, who told police that he had had 1 1/2 shots of cognac, was given a breath test. The result: Carrothers' blood-alcohol level was 0.02, far below the legal limit for driving of 0.08, according to the reports.
OPS asked a state toxicologist to calculate Carrothers' blood-alcohol level at the time the shooting occurred. The chemist estimated it was at least 0.11 and possibly as high as 0.15, according to lab reports.
Carrothers was cleared by the police roundtable -- a swift, preliminary meeting of commanders and detectives -- hours after the shooting.
But an OPS investigation later sided with Boyd. The investigative report states that the "preponderance of evidence" backed his contention that he was unarmed and not a threat to Carrothers when Carrothers shot him. Further, it said, evidence indicated that Boyd was shot while running away or on the ground.
Smith said he recommended that Carrothers be fired. Although Callie Baird, then the head of OPS, agreed with the finding that he shot an unarmed man without justification, she recommended Carrothers get a 30-day suspension, according to her December 2001 memo to the police superintendent.
Baird declined to comment for this story. OPS has since changed its name to the Independent Police Review Authority; Baird is now a Cook County judge.
Boyd sued the city and Carrothers, who left the Police Department. At the trial, a Law Department attorney sought to distance the city from the officer. J. Ernest Mincy noted that Carrothers was off duty and his actions had nothing to do with police work. "Ladies and gentlemen, nobody is criticizing Darrell Carrothers for being afraid," Mincy said, "but saving your own skin is not police work."
Carrothers' attorney, James Thompson, urged the jury to find for the officer, saying his account of the shooting was more credible and that he had no choice but to defend himself. "The only two things that Darrell Carrothers had out there that night was his badge and his handgun," Thompson said. "And he was justified, ladies and gentlemen, in defending himself from the attack."
The jury ruled in Carrothers' favor. Boyd appealed, but on Wednesday the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the court's judgment in denying Boyd a new civil trial.
Authorities charged Boyd with misdemeanor battery shortly after the shooting, but the allegations were dropped when Carrothers failed to show for a court hearing.
Autopsy casts doubt on officer
On a Sunday morning in June 2000, Dr. Mitra Kalelkar of the Cook County medical examiner's office began her autopsy on the body of 17-year-old Robert Washington. But even before she finished, a police roundtable had cleared the officer who shot him.
Kalelkar's findings would cast doubt on the account of the shooting given by Officer Phyllis Clinkscales. But it took months before the autopsy was used to question her version of the shooting.
She was off duty early that Sunday morning when she pulled up in her Cadillac outside her mother's home in the Englewood neighborhood after attending a wedding reception with her sister and brother-in-law.
There is no dispute that Washington jumped in her car and tried to steal it. Clinkscales, 48 at the time, told investigators that Washington pulled a gun on her.
She said she shot him as she stood outside the driver's side of the car and he turned toward her from the driver's seat, pointing his gun at her. According to police and OPS records, she said she told Washington she was a police officer and ordered him to put his gun down, but he refused. So she fired her gun.
The autopsy, though, showed that all of the bullets entered the back of Washington's head and neck. Kalelkar told an OPS investigator at the autopsy that one of Washington's wounds was marked by powder and soot. This indicated the mark was made "from loose contact" with his head. Another wound left a "muzzle imprint," the records show.
All four of the wounds were on the back right side of Washington's head and neck. In Clinkscales' account, that side would have been turned away from her as she fired.
One of the witnesses to the shooting told investigators that after gunshots woke her, she looked out her window and saw a woman holding a handgun. The neighbor said she heard the woman say: "Let the [expletive] die."
The documents reviewed by the Tribune showed no indication that the detectives who initially investigated the case ever pressed Clinkscales over these inconsistencies or other important details.
Clinkscales, for instance, said Washington entered her car on the passenger side and scooted over into the driver's seat. Evidence photos, though, show the armrest between the front seats down with a tall beverage cup and a water bottle standing in it undisturbed.
James Lukas was the OPS investigator who interviewed Kalelkar. Though plaintiffs' attorneys had criticized him in other investigations for failing to ask tough questions, Lukas challenged Clinkscales on nearly every aspect of her account -- from how far away she was from Washington when she shot him to whether she cursed him after she shot him.
Noting Clinkscales wrote in one report that she was 5 to 10 feet from Washington when she shot him but told Lukas she was 1 to 2 feet away when she fired, Lukas asked, "Which account is accurate?"
"They're both accurate," said Clinkscales, according to a transcript of the interview. "But at the time I wrote the original report, I might have been more accurate."
Noting that autopsy reports and morgue photos indicated Clinkscales had put her gun to the back of Washington's head before she fired, Lukas asked, "How do you explain the nature of these wounds if you deny that you had placed your gun against Mr. Washington and fired?"
"I am not a pathologist," she replied. "I can only explain to you what happened to the best of my recollection."
Police brass reject call for discipline
About two weeks after Lukas questioned Clinkscales, OPS investigators filed their conclusions with Baird in April 2001. They made clear Clinkscales' account was at odds with the evidence and suggested she shot Washington after he was no longer a threat to her.
"The preponderance of evidence indicates that the driver's door was already closed and Mr. Washington was facing forward and attempting to start the car's engine when Officer Clinkscales began firing," Lukas and two supervisors wrote in a memo, a copy of which was reviewed by the Tribune.
In July of that year, according to another memo the Tribune reviewed, Baird approved seeking Clinkscales' firing. Baird found the shooting unjustified and determined that Clinkscales had filed a false report when she denied that she had put her gun to Washington's head, causing the contact wounds.
But less than six months later, the move to dismiss Clinkscales came under fire. First, Baird revised her recommendation to a 30-day suspension.
Around the same time, the general counsel to Supt. Terry Hillard asked Baird to reduce the punishment recommendation from firing to the suspension. In a memo to Baird, also reviewed by the Tribune, the police counsel said the city Law Department reviewed the shooting -- though it is unclear why -- and determined there was "no evidence to dispute" Clinkscales' account.
A series of commanders then reviewed the case in a process called command channel review. Each filed memos that sided with Clinkscales and suggested her inconsistent account of the shooting was an inevitable product of a traumatic incident.
"Only a mechanical robot could endure such a disturbing experience and provide an exact duplicate response to every detail when being questioned at different intervals, not to mention nine months later," then chief of patrol James Mauer wrote in July 2002, according to his memo.
Mauer, now chief of security for the city's Department of Aviation, declined comment.
Nearly a year after Mauer's memo, a new head of OPS, Lori Lightfoot, revised the agency's findings, writing that the allegation that Clinkscales shot Washington without justification should not be sustained. But an OPS memo shows that Lightfoot upheld the recommendation that the officer be suspended for 30 days for filing inconsistent reports on the shooting. She declined to comment.
Public records do not show whether Clinkscales was ever disciplined. Reached at her home, she declined to comment as well.
Kalelkar said in an interview that she never was aware of Clinkscales' version of the shooting -- and how it did not square with the autopsy -- until she was contacted by the Tribune.
The deputy medical examiner said that although it was possible Clinkscales' first shot at Washington was from some distance, the officer's claims that she had not put her gun to his head simply were "not true."
In deciding to open an investigation into Washington's death, the state's attorney's office is considering whether Clinkscales committed a crime. "If people come to us with more information on a case, we look at it," said Gorman, the office's chief spokesman. "We don't close the door on it."
The office hasn't charged a Chicago police officer in a shooting since 1998.