Judge orders outside investigation into Ill. probation departmentAccused of teaming up with law enforcement to search probationers' homes without warrants
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
by Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Wednesday hired a well-known law firm to investigate allegations that the court’s probation department has improperly teamed up on searches of probationers’ homes with Chicago police and the FBI.
Evans’ decision to bring in an outside law firm is the result of a Tribune investigation published Wednesday that found the Adult Probation Department for years has quietly worked with law enforcement to go into probationers' homes without warrants, looking for guns, drugs and information and leading to questionable and illegal searches.
Their actions, in some cases, had triggered accusations that drugs were planted, money was stolen and probationers were threatened with jail if they refused to become informants for Chicago police and the FBI.
Evans, in a statement, said any evidence of illegal conduct would be turned over to the proper authorities.
“I am outraged by these allegations which, if true, could be considered a blatant disregard of constitutional rights,” Evans said. “It is the responsibility of the probation officers to safeguard the rights of probationers at all times by ensuring appropriate policies and procedures are followed.”
Evans oversees the probation department and its officers who monitor some 24,000 convicts sentenced to probation instead of prison.
The Tribune found that many of the concerns stemmed from the activities of the specialized weapons units supervised by Deputy Chief Philippe Loizon, a veteran probation officer who has built alliances with police and the FBI, at times over his bosses’ objections.
According to his statement, Evans has specifically asked the law firm to investigate “whether the heads of the department’s specialized weapons units encouraged and participated in improper searches and seizures, as well as engaged in other questionable practices.”
Evans said Loizon was placed on desk duty last Friday. The move came two days after the Tribune presented its findings to department officials.
Loizon, 49, who has worked for the department for more than two decades, declined to comment.
Probation officers—unlike police and federal authorities—have the power under the law to conduct surprise searches of probationers’ homes without warrants. The Tribune found that the FBI and police have assisted probation officers during searches, gaining access to homes where they might otherwise need a court-ordered warrant.
Probationers also told the Tribune that some probation officers pressured them to become informants by promising special treatment and threatened to disrupt their lives if they refused to cooperate.
Although police and probation officers cooperate in other cities, legal experts said such arrangements should have detailed policies to avoid illegal searches that could allow criminals to go free when evidence is thrown out, expose police and others to lawsuits and lead to civil rights violations.
The Tribune’s investigation found that the department has not developed rules and regulations for cooperating with law enforcement agencies, and has only vague guidelines on how officers should carry out their searches. Probation officers also are not trained in developing and handling confidential informants.
Evans called the department “troubled” and said the investigation also would examine the department’s procedures and policies to see if any changes are needed.
He said the investigation will be conducted by Laner Muchin, Ltd. and is expected to be completed within 60 days.
Chicago-based Laner Muchin bills itself as one of the country’s oldest law firms specializing in labor and employment law on behalf of management.
Evans said he has ordered the department’s leadership to cooperate with the investigation and “to make certain that any searches and seizures comply with constitutional mandates.”
Evans was not available for further comment. Lavone Haywood, who was Loizon’s immediate supervisor before Evans promoted Haywood to head of the department in March, could not be reached for comment.
Kenny Ray, a fast-food restaurant manager whose home a judge determined was illegally searched in 2011, said he was hopeful no one else would go through what he did.
Ray had told the Tribune that after the search, he discovered about $1,500 was missing from his bedroom closet. Police and probation have denied any wrongdoing in the search.
Ray, 34, said he appreciated that the allegations were being taken seriously.
“It’s great,” he said. “I’m glad they took notice and are going to look into what’s going on.”