A little more than a week ago we published the post, “Wonderland Chicago, the Victim Problem.” We admonished city leaders that “if, up is down and down is up, then welcome Alice to Wonderland Chicago. Lawlessness is madness.” Well Alice, defiling the memory of a slain officer is also madness. Secure 1776 has reached this conclusion based on three factors. First, the details of Police Officer Ella French’s murder. Second, what we learned as a city about her following her death. Third, a review of the summary file posted by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) that included problematic investigative findings and recommendations involving Officer French. The public release of COPA’s three-day suspension recommendation for Officer French is more spectacle Chicago. Defiling the memory of a slain officer in the name of the people she served is despicable. We call on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to hold COPA’s leadership accountable.
Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
A Fallen Hero – Slain Officer French
Some incidents, even in a city of 2.7 million people, are widely known. The murder of Officer Ella French is such an incident. She was killed during a traffic stop on 7 August 2021. Her partner, Officer Carlos Yanez, Jr., received near-fatal wounds in the same incident.
In our 11 August post, “More Warning Signs: Chicago and Hadleyville,” we continued to identify warning signs of Chicago’s continued slide into lawlessness. We highlighted the shooting incident that stole the life of Officer French, and left Officer Yanez, Jr. with life-altering permanent injuries. These officers were doing exactly what was asked of them. They were young officers actively honoring their oaths as police officers.
We also took note of of a Chicago Sun-Times editorial, entitled: “Officer Ella French wore the insignia of the Chicago Police Department — but it did not keep her safe.” The editorial provided a clear warning to the city’s political power structure. “When the police are not respected, when the authority of their uniform and badge no longer holds, nobody is safe. We either stand as a city with the police, even as we support police reforms, or we sink as a city without the police.”
Emonte Morgan, age 21, remains in custody for the slaying. Emonte was a passenger in the vehicle stopped by Officer French and her partners. He is charged with first-degree murder of a peace officer, attempted first-degree murder of a peace officer (two counts), aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. His brother Eric Morgan, 22, was the vehicle driver. He is charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, and obstruction of justice.
What We Learned About Ella
In the weeks following her murder, many spoke about Officer Ella French. Every remembrance of her described a caring person and an officer dedicated to her chosen profession.
The third officer there that fateful night was Police Officer Joshua Blas. At Ella’s funeral mass, Officer Blas spoke of how she “genuinely loved people.” He also spoke about her love of animals, “especially dogs.” He recounted how she would yell out while they were on patrol together when she saw a stray dog, so they could take it to a shelter. Ella’s own dog was a rescue animal from Chicago’s west side.
In the weeks just prior to her own murder, Officer French helped to save the life of an infant, Terriana Smith. The one-month-old child was among seven people shot in the same neighborhood that Officer French was murdered. As reported by WGN News, and other sources, French rushed the child to the hospital. The child’s uncle Charles McKenzie spoke of the care and compassion that Officer French also provided to the child’s mother. McKenzie said of French: “She cares a lot about the community, and she loved the people inside the community.”
We know Officer French gave the last full measure of her devotion to help prevent Chicago from becoming a Hadleyville. She was a caring and inspiring woman. We know as well that she had an inspiring mother. Just days after attending her daughter’s funeral, Elizabeth French wrote an open letter of thanks to the city. The letter was posted on would have been Ella’s 30th birthday. We thank you Elizabeth French and beg your forgiveness. Defiling the service of your heroic daughter is reprehensible. We apologize for the failings of our city’s leaders.
Defiling the Memory of a Hero – The COPA Debacle
On Wednesday, 10 November 2021, COPA publicly released its investigative summary in the Anjanette Young incident. The Young incident is a second widely-known Chicago story. Unfortunately, it involves Chicago Police executing a search warrant based upon faulty information. An informant had reported seeing a known felon unlawfully in possession of a firearm. It bears noting that the source of the information swore to the truthfulness and accuracy of the information before a Cook County judge. Nonetheless, it was Chicago police officers who executed the faulty warrant and forced entry into the home of Anjanette Young. Ms. Young was naked at the time. Body-worn camera video of the February 2019 raid drew wide-spread criticism. Ms. Young was not involved in any criminal activity, and the felon in question lived on the next block.
In total two sergeants and 12 officers were accused of misconduct from the search warrant and entry. The main premise of the complaints against the accused members were: (1) the police were not thorough enough in verifying the informant’s information; (2) Ms. Young was not shown proper respect; and (3) the involved supervisors provided inadequate oversight. Officer French, who at that time was still a probationary officer with just 10 months on the job, was one of two uniformed officers on-scene. At the time, CPD policy required at least two uniformed officers to be at such a search warrant execution. Their role is to provide a visible police presence as a safety precaution. These uniformed officers are generally a nearby patrol beat team. These officers generally have no involvement in the investigative preparations for the search warrant. Such was the case with then Probationary Police Officer French.
Faulty Findings and Recommendations Regarding P.P.O. French
Ella French entered the police academy on 16 April 2018. The incident in question occurred in February 2019. Based upon a 900-hour in-academy training program, P.P.O. French likely began 12 weeks of field training around October 2018. As she had 20-days vacation time for 2018, she would have likely completed her formal field training around January 2019. The controversial search warrant occurred on 21 February 2019. As such, not only was P.P.O. French still on probation, at the time of the incident she was just a few weeks past her formal field training. It is highly probable, that this was the first search warrant at which she played any role. Below are the allegations COPA served Officer French.
COPA’s Investigative Findings Relative Officer French:
What stands out immediately is then P.P.O French was not found to have engaged in any significant misconduct, and no misconduct directly related to Ms. Young. Secondly, a review of COPA’s investigative summary indicates their contention that Officer French committed one equipment error, as well as one documentation error. However, both of these conclusions merit further consideration.
- COPA’s own investigation confirmed that once within the Young residence, Officer French did properly utilize her body-worn camera (BWC).
- As noted in the COPA summary, the manner in which Officer French came to be in proximity to the stop of the “unknown male subject” was unexpected. Given Officer French’s level of inexperience and likely first-time assistance in a search warrant, her delay in starting her BWC was most likely an oversight, and not deliberate misconduct.
- Relative to the completion of an Investigatory Stop Report (ISR), a tactical officer (Donnelly) by his own statement was responsible for ensuring the completion of the ISR. He admitted he failed to do so. Fixing “blame” for Officer Donnelly’s failure on P.P.O. French is unreasonable. She is not described as playing any active role in the stop, and she was not Officer Donnelly’s partner. Further, P.P.O. French could have reasonably concluded the tactical personnel (particularly Officer Donnelly) intended and would subsequently properly document the encounter.
- The then unknown male subject never alleged any misconduct by the police during the encounter. Secondly, even after COPA identified this person, he made no complaint and did not cooperate with the COPA investigation.
- Further, this encounter was only indirectly related to the allegations actually involving Ms. Young. Had the Young residence been the correct address, these lesser procedural and documentation accusations involving Officer French would have received far less notoriety.
In the analysis conducted by Secure 1776, Officer French should have been cleared of Allegation #8, relative to the completion of an ISR. The proper finding for that allegation should have been “unfounded,” as the culpable officer was Officer Donnelly.
COPA’s Penalty Recommendation Relative Officer French
As indicated below, COPA recommended Officer French receive a three-day suspension for the two “sustained findings” discussed above.
It bears noting, absent a problematic disciplinary history of an accused officer, neither of these two allegations have typically in the past resulted in a three-day suspension. It would appear, that even though the allegations COPA sustained against Officer French had nothing to do with Ms. Young, there was a “high-profile” incident “make an example” recommended penalty imposed. Such is inappropriate. Particularly given Officer French’s care and concern for Ms. Young, and her level of inexperience, COPA failed to weight these mitigating factors appropriately. In the wake of Officer French being murdered, Ms. Young voluntarily issued a statement in support of Officer French. Young stated that Officer French was the only officer during the incident who showed her “dignity or respect.”
Again, Secure 1776 contends COPA should not have recommended any sustained finding for Allegation #8. Such would leave only a need for a penalty recommendation relative to Allegation #7, regarding the timeliness of Officer French’s BWC activation. Based upon the totality of the circumstances, the matter could have been resolved with a reprimand. Such would have been the appropriate recommendation for any probationary officer with no disciplinary history – who was still alive at the time any approved penalty was to be implemented.
Fall Out From COPA’s Defiling the Reputation of Officer French
This latest spectacle Chicago, self-inflicted wound, is yet another example of an embarrassed, and embarrassing city government. Several Chicago aldermen, the FOP Lodge President John Catanzara, rank and file officers, as well as Andrew French, the brother of the slain officer, expressed outrage regarding COPA’s conduct in this matter.
Backpedaling by COPA Since Wednesday:
There is no doubt that the Young case has been damaging for the city. However, even the victim in that case expressed support for Officer French. With the fallout from defiling the reputation of a slain officer, for minor infractions occurring in her first months in the field, COPA went into damage control. The agency sought to divert attention by making three assertions. First, the investigation was completed on 27 April 2021, a little more than three months prior to the murder of Officer French. Second, they “carefully considered the release of the report and its impact on Ms. Anjanette Young and Ella French’s family.” Third, they had no choice other than releasing the report with the approved suspension recommendation.
The First Assertion:
The investigation was completed in April 2021. Yes, the investigative summary indicates that now Interim Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten approved the investigation in April. However, such is not the end of the process. Once an investigation is approved, it goes through a command channel review process, which involves the Chicago Police Department. Such a process can take weeks, and even months. The relevant question would be: “When was the final approval on the findings and penalty recommendations?” We know that the determination to fire Sergeant Alex Wolinski (the on-scene supervisor) was only filed with the Chicago Police Board on Tuesday, 9 November 2021. So said the Chicago Sun-Times. Additionally, WGN News reported on 10 November 2021 that the file “was submitted in October — two months after French’s death.”
It is likely the investigation was still under review when French was murdered. Why? Because Mayor Lightfoot had indicated publicly she wanted a speedy conclusion to this investigation. If the findings and recommendations had all been fully finalized, city hall would not have sat on that news. As such, COPA was likely in a position, as part of the review process, to revise their penalty recommendation – given the murder of Officer French. Both cases were exceptionally high profile and it is beyond belief that COPA did not make the connection.
The Second Assertion:
Relative to whether COPA’s claim that it “carefully considered the release of the report and its impact on Ms. Anjanette Young and Ella French’s family.” Well two things come to mind. First, such would indicate that COPA was aware that recommending a three-day suspension for Officer French, given all the circumstances, was “an issue.” Second, well it is not clear what “carefully considered” consisted of, because none of that consideration made it into COPA’s 10 November 2021 press release.
The Third Assertion:
After the agency began to receive widespread criticism, COPA released a statement Thursday night to the media that included the following: “We honor the service Officer French gave to our city and mourn her death and also hope the release of the report brings further closure to Ms. Anjanette Young.” Even giving COPA the benefit of doubt relative to the first two assertions, there remains a problem with the third assertion – there was nothing they could do. Let’s assume COPA had no choice other than releasing the report with the approved suspension recommendation. So, why didn’t COPA include any reference about Officer French in their Wednesday press release? No expression honoring her service. No indication that the infractions they sustained against Officer French did not actually involve Ms. Young. No statement highlighting Officer French’s demonstrated care and concern for Ms. Young. Why not? The most logical answer is – it wasn’t really a concern for COPA until they received significant criticism.
At the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office
Secure 1776 continues to mourn the loss of Police Officer Ella French. We continue to pray for her mother, Elizabeth French, and the entire French family. We are embarrassed today for our city government. We are reminded that in the first days after her death, two key city officials publicly got a slain officer’s name wrong. Yet again, the city’s highest officials have failed to show the French family the level of reverence required. We call again on the city’s mayor to ensure accountability relative to COPA’s defiling the memory of a slain officer and disrespecting a Gold Star Family. Such has brought discredit upon the city and its police department. Such, would seem to be a violation of the very standards being held relative to the conduct of the police officers who entered Ms. Young’s residence.
Secure 1776 was among those assembled at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in the hours after the murder of Officer French. We can assure our readers that the sounds of Amazing Grace and the Lord’s Prayer are particularly impactful there. So too is a flag-draped body, without a coffin, embraced by a mother. We continue to thank and salute Officer French. Always remember her. We thank as well Father Dan Brandt for his care, comfort and prayers. As COPA’s Interim Chief Administrator Andrea Kersten was not there, we encourage her to watch the below video.
We are interested in your thoughts, and invite you to comment below.
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