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Aldermen Slam Lightfoot’s Pick For Police Oversight Boss After ‘Tone Deaf’ Report On Slain Officer Ella French

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability recommended discipline for French stemming from the botched raid at Anjanette Young's home. The report was finished in April, months before French was killed, but released to the public last week.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a City Council meeting on July 21, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Twenty alderpeople have opposed Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s choice to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability after the agency recommended discipline for slain officer Ella French in a report about the wrongful raid on Anjanette Young’s home in 2019. 

Lightfoot nominated Andrea Kersten as COPA’s chief administrator Tuesday, a position Kersten has held on an interim basis since Sydney Roberts left in the spring.

Kersten’s appointment must be confirmed by a majority of the 50-member City Council.

Last week, COPA released its findings into the raid, in which body cameras showed a terrified Young handcuffed and naked while she pleads with officers they were searching the wrong home.

The report noted French was one of the only officers who treated Young with dignity during the ordeal. Still, COPA recommended a suspension for French because of other policy violations. That suggestion is moot, since French, 29, was murdered in a traffic stop in August.

The report was finalized in April, months before French was killed. It could not be released publicly until after Police Supt. David Brown reviewed the punishments recommended by the agency, then charges against the officers were filed with the Chicago Police Board.

The inclusion of French outraged her family, supporters and local officials. Before Lightfoot’s announcement, 20 Council members publicly blasted the nomination, saying in a letter to the mayor they were “dismayed, disheartened and outraged” about the report and that Kersten “does not have what it takes to be at the helm of COPA as demonstrated by her release of this report.”

The letter also references Lightfoot’s own comment last week the report was the “height of tone deafness,” but does not mention the investigation concluded months before French died.

“Morale is low, tensions are running high, and COPA releases a report tainting the legacy of fallen Officer French and recommending disciplinary action against her?” the letter reads. “All this report does is further alienate our Chicago Police officers at a time when it is imperative that we begin rebuilding their trust in this administration and in the people who are supposed to have their backs.”

The letter was signed by Alds. Nicholas Sposato (38th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Brian Hopkins (2nd); Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); George Cardenas (12th); Marty Quinn (13th); Ed Burke (14th); David Moore (17th); Matthew O’Shea (19th); Jeanette Taylor (20th); Ariel Reboyras (30th); Felix Cardona (31st); Gilbert Villegas (36th); Emma Mitts (37th); Samantha Nugent (39th): Andre Vasquez (40th); Anthony Napolitano (41st); Brendan Reilly (42nd) and James Gardiner (45th).

“COPA is aware of the letter and looks forward to interim chief administrator Kersten’s chance to speak before the Public Safety Committee and City Council in hopes more clarity can be provided,” spokesperson Ephraim Eaddy said.

Lightfoot’s office has not responded to a request for comment about the letter.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
An officer wears a badge in remembrance of Chicago Police Officer Ella French after the fallen officer’s funeral at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel in Ashburn on Aug. 19, 2021.

French was not one of the officers who took part in serving the search warrant. Instead, she and a few other officers arrived afterward to provide security, according to the report. She and other officers stopped and searched a man who had been parked behind Young’s home, then went inside when they learned he was not involved in the investigation.

French offered to take Young — who had been handcuffed naked for about 10 minutes — to a discreet area so she could get dressed, which a sergeant approved. French took Young to a bedroom and took off her handcuffs, allowing Young to put on clothes, according to the report.

COPA recommended discipline up to termination for a sergeant and two others involved in the raid. Five others, including French, were recommended for shorter suspensions. 

The report recommended French be given a three-day suspension for failing to activate her body-worn camera in a timely manner, and not properly submitting an investigatory stop report related after she and other officers briefly detained a man outside Young’s home.

After French was killed, Young publicly praised her for her conduct during the raid.

“Officer French assisted Ms. Young and allowed her to get dressed, in the privacy of her bedroom,” a spokesperson for Young said in a statement. “Officer French was the only officer who showed Ms. Young any dignity or respect on the night of the raid. Ms. Young is praying for Officer French’s family and offers her sincerest condolences to them and all of Officer French’s friends and colleagues.”

Young has a pending lawsuit against the city, Police Department and officers involved in the raid.

In a statement announcing the nomination, Lightfoot praised Kersten as “dedicated public servant with a lifetime of relevant experience and subject matter expertise” and singled out her efforts in completing the backlog of open cases COPA inherited from the agency’s predecessor, the Independent Police Review Authority.

“At a time when independent and civilian-led police accountability have never been more important, I have the utmost confidence in Andrea’s ability to lead COPA with transparency, integrity, and dedication to the office’s important role,” Lightfoot said. 

Kersten previously served as an assistant state’s attorney, administrative law judge and as a staff attorney with IPRA.

“Police reform, specifically civilian oversight, is one of the more critical issues of our time and of significant importance to all residents of our city, civilian and sworn,” Kersten said in the statement. “If confirmed, I will continue to serve guided by the consent decree, city ordinance and uphold COPA’s core values: integrity, transparency, independence and timeliness.”

Kersten’s nomination also comes in advance of the Mayor’s Office being stripped of the power to appoint COPA’s leader. That task eventually will fall to the newly created civilian-led police oversight commission.

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