A decade after Jamie Kalven’s ‘Kicking the Pigeon’ series first detailed Skullcap Crew’s human rights abuses, Invisible Institute and Social Justice News Nexus publish new investigation of five officers known for terrorizing citizens
CHICAGO –(ENEWSPF)–August 3, 2016. Today the Guardian US published a new investigation into the long misconduct complaint histories of five Chicago police officers known as the Skullcap Crew. The story was produced in collaboration with the Social Justice News Nexus fellowship at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University, with support from the Invisible Institute.
Appearing more than 100 times in official misconduct complaints and in more than 20 federal civil lawsuits, the Skullcap Crew is a group of officers who once patrolled Chicago’s South Side public housing communities, as first documented by journalist Jamie Kalven in the “Kicking the Pigeon” series in 2005.
For years, citizens have repeatedly filed complaints about the Skullcap Crew officers — Edwin Utreras, Robert Stegmiller, Christ Savickas, Andrew Schoeff and Joe Seinitz — alleging brutality, intimidation and harassment. All of these officers are still on the force except for Seinitz, who resigned in 2007. The rest remain in good standing, except Stegmiller, who is now relegated to desk duty after a November 2015 arrest for retail theft in suburban Orland Park, where he was accused of stealing more than $300 worth of merchandise from a Target store. Surveillance video captures the incident.
The Guardian investigation found:
- Despite costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuit settlements over the course of their careers, these officers have received little discipline — a two-day suspension, a five-day suspension, and a reprimand — according to city data. Instead, they have garnered praise from the department, accruing more than 180 commendations.
- The members of the Skullcap Crew have at least 128 official allegations of abuse from more than 60 known citizen-filed complaints among them over about a decade and a half. The Guardian’s analysis of these accusations – some previously unpublished and yet to be published — shows that about a third of these claims include Use of Force violations, almost half of which involved injuries.
- The allegations also include at least five strip searches and more than 20 claims of false arrest or planting drugs. The vast majority – 87% – were filed by African Americans. And African Americans accounted for 100% of the victims of allegations in the verbal abuse, false arrest and conduct unbecoming of an officer while off duty categories.
- Very few of these allegations, however, were sustained and even fewer punished. Out of the known citizen-filed misconduct complaints (containing at least 128 separate allegations) from misconduct complaints against the five Skullcap Crew members, only six complaints, or less than 5%, resulted in a sustained finding, where disciplinary action was recommended.
The Guardian investigation into these officers’ history of misconduct allegations picks up where Jamie Kalven left off a decade ago. Since then, a federal civil rights suit that arose out of Kalven’s reporting on the abuses of the Skullcap Crew—Bond v. Utreras—ultimately led to a watershed decision of the Illinois Appellate Court in 2014, Kalven v. City of Chicago, establishing that police misconduct records are public in Illinois. Now the Citizens Police Data Project, housed at the Invisible Institute, features a special section for the known misconduct complaint histories of the Skullcap Crew, as well as the underlying report narratives — the most comprehensive published body of complaints for a group of Chicago Police Officers.
“Over the years, I witnessed members of the Skullcap Crew abuse public housing residents again and again,” Jamie Kalven said recently. “They acted with impunity, secure in the knowledge they would never face meaningful discipline. This was due not only to the absence of effective accountability systems. It was also due to the social status of their victims. The lesson is clear: to achieve meaningful police reform, we must address conditions of racial inequality that create space for abuse.”
The Invisible Institute is a nonprofit Chicago-based journalistic production company that works to enhance the capacity of civil society to hold public institutions accountable. Toward that end, we develop strategies to expand and operationalize transparency. We seek to make visible perspectives too often excluded from public discourse. And we develop social interventions designed to leverage necessary reforms. Among the tools we employ are human rights documentation, investigative reporting, civil rights litigation, the curating of public information, conceptual art projects, and the orchestration of difficult public conversations.
Source: The Invisible Institute