A little over a month after the U.S. Department of Justice released findings from a yearlong study that showed the Chicago Police Department has a problem with excessive violence, racial bias and shooting people who did not pose immediate threats, a new analysis of police records shows that a busy West Side district is under the command of a cop with a long history of misconduct allegations.
Cmdr. James Sanchez, who was promoted to commander by Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson last August, has been the subject of at least 90 formal complaints since joining the police force in 1985. WBEZ obtained the police records through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and reports that most of the complaints against Sanchez alleged excessive force or improper searches.
Sanchez has nearly twice as many complaints as any of the other 21 district commanders in the department and about five times their average.
According to WBEZ, not only does Sanchez have connections to Jerome Finnigan, a Chicago police officer sent to federal prison for corruption and a murder-for-hire plot, but he was also the lead detective on a murder case that led to a $750,000 city settlement with a man who was acquitted after spending three years in jail on charges of committing the crime.
University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman has spent more than a decade in court battling for the release of CPD misconduct records. He told WBEZ that he wonders whether Supt. Johnson considered Sanchez’s record before promoting him.
“Those should be red flags,” Futterman said. “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.”
Sanchez’s promotion puts him in charge of more than 300 officers in CPD’s Ogden District, which includes some of the city’s most violent areas. CPD called Sanchez’s promotion “part of [Johnson’s] pledge to rebuild trust between the department and the community.”
Frank Giancamilli, a CPD spokesman, said in a statement that Johnson “takes into consideration the full background of potential command-staff promotional candidates.
“This includes Cmdr. Sanchez, who was appointed based upon the superintendent’s confidence in his ability to reduce crime and build community partnerships in the [Ogden] district,” the statement said.
According to police records, only three of the 90 complaints against Sanchez have led to findings against him, and none have led to a punishment more severe than a three-day suspension.
Although Sanchez far exceeds current district commanders in complaints, he has fewer than the 113 Glenn Evans had when Supt. Garry McCarthy promoted him to command the Grand Crossing District in 2012.
Two years later, Evans faced felony charges for allegedly putting his pistol into a suspect’s mouth. A Cook County judge acquitted him in 2015.
A police department spokesman did not answer whether Johnson knew about Sanchez’s complaints before making the promotion.
But the department said complaints against officers are fully investigated and, if substantiated, those cops are held accountable.
That is not what the U.S. Department of Justice found during a yearlong investigation of CPD following the 2015 release of a video showing a white officer fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald.
“Our investigation confirmed that CPD’s accountability systems are broadly ineffective at deterring or detecting misconduct and at holding officers accountable when they violate the law or CPD policy,” the DOJ reported last month.
Alderman Michael Scott Jr., whose 24th Ward covers part of the Ogden District, said of Sanchez, “He’s on the street with his guys. The morale is up a little bit. They’re recovering weapons at an amazing clip. He’s out at incidents that happened in the ward. He is instituting strategies to help reduce the gun violence.”
Scott noted that Sanchez was a lieutenant in a gang investigation unit before being promoted to commander and said that his complaint record might have to do with his assignments over the years.
Futterman said he has heard that defense before.
“You work in places with higher crime, you have more contact with people, no one likes to be searched, no one likes to be arrested, you get complaints,” Futterman said. “But it’s a rare occasion when someone who is searched or arrested actually goes out and files a complaint. And the vast majority of those officers haven’t accumulated extraordinary numbers of complaints.”
Futterman also said that if Johnson did not look into Sanchez’s complaint history before promoting him, then the superintendent wasn’t doing his job.
Read more at WBEZ.