Chief judge mum on completed inquiry into Cook County probation agency
Wednesday, March 30, 2016
by Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty
Cook County Chief JudgeTimothy Evanspromised the public a swift and thorough investigation into the county's probation department in 2014, following allegations that rogue officers had planted drugs, stolen money and trampled on the civil rights of probationers.
Nearly two years later, that review recently concluded, but Evans refuses to say what, if anything, was found.
Evans, who as chief judge runs the probation department, would not say if he had disciplined any employees, made changes to policies or referred any criminal wrongdoing to law enforcement authorities. He cited two pending federal civil-rights lawsuits against him, probation officers and other law enforcement authorities in declining to comment, according to his spokesman, Pat Milhizer.
Evans' silence stands in stark contrast to the outrage he expressed in May 2014 following a Tribune investigation into how the probation department had for years quietly worked with theFBIand Chicago police to conduct questionable searches.
The Tribune found that wayward weapons units within the probation department conducted searches of homes and prompted accusations that drugs had been planted, money stolen and people threatened with jail if they refused to work as informants for the FBI or Chicago police.
Evans hired a politically connected law firm, Laner Muchin, to look into the Tribune's findings and said he expected the review to be done in 60 days. He also ordered Deputy Chief Philippe Loizon, who continues to oversee the weapons unit at the center of the allegations, off the streets and onto desk duty.
Evans cast the investigation as an effort to determine if supervisors had encouraged or participated in improper searches or engaged in other questionable conduct that had been raised in the Tribune story. But Laner Muchin lawyers were not granted subpoena power to compel testimony or collect evidence.
What's more, probation officers told the Tribune recently they believe Evans' investigation actually was aimed more at trying to uncover the newspaper's sources than exposing wrongdoing.
Those officers, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because they feared for their jobs, said Evans should have brought in the county's inspector general or the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the alleged civil rights violations.
"Actions taken by Judge Evans were clearly designed to avoid any accountability," one officer said. "It should not have cost Cook County taxpayers … for information that eventually could not be released concerning corruption by public employees."
The Tribune reported last May that Robert Jones, who was on probation for a drug conviction, said Loizon had interfered with the investigation. He said Loizon promised him a job and arranged for him to be given hundreds of dollars to meet with Laner Muchin lawyers. Loizon then had his lawyer sit in and monitor Jones' interview, according to Jones and the lawyer.
Jones said he did not tell investigators everything he knew and lied in an affidavit to protect Loizon.
Evans at the time called Jones' allegations disturbing and asked Laner Muchin to investigate further, indicating that, if true, the behavior could warrant possible prosecution.
Jones recently told the Tribune that he has since met a second time with Laner Muchin lawyers.
Sally Daly, spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, said: "We have not been contacted by the chief judge or anyone else regarding allegations of illegal activity by probation officers."
Probationers and probation staff interviewed as part of the investigation told the Tribune the lawyers' questions involved reading entire sections of stories line by line, then asking if the reporting was accurate. They said the interviews seemed cursory.
Evans' spokesman said any suggestion the investigation was intended to protect the department against lawsuits was "false and not rooted in reality."
It is not clear exactly when the investigation ended. Laner Muchin has been paid about $82,750 — with well over half of that paid within the first six months of the investigation. The firm was last paid in January.
Several current and former probation officers have questioned how far up the chain the investigation would go, given that the firm was hired by Evans and that Evans had been repeatedly alerted over the years about problems in the department.
Evans and the firm's managing partner, Joseph Gagliardo, have known each other for decades, when both worked for the city — Gagliardo as a top lawyer insideCity Halland Evans as an alderman and then-Mayor Harold Washington's floor leader. Devlin Schoop, a former Laner Muchin lawyer who played a leading role in the investigation, is now a Cook County judge under Evans.
Gagliardo referred questions to Milhizer.
Gagliardo and Schoop have previously denied any conflict, saying the investigation has been rigorous and independent.
As for the controversial probation cases spotlighted in the Tribune's 2014 investigation, they have since fallen apart in court.
In two of the cases, prosecutors dropped weapons charges. In another two, a judge or a jury found defendants not guilty.
Two defendants in those cases have since alleged in federal lawsuits that probation officers conspired with other law enforcement agencies to conduct illegal and warrantless searches in an unchecked hunt for drugs and guns.
Orangelo Payne, previously on probation for a drug conviction, alleged in an April 2015 lawsuit that probation officers, along with the FBI and Chicago police, illegally searched his home, leading to his arrest and imprisonment.
Michael Lipford, who was not on probation but lived with a probationer, alleged in an August 2015 lawsuit that officers illegally searched his home, arrested him without cause and then walked away with "several hundred dollars." He also said he suffered a stroke during the arrest.
Lipford's and Payne's lawsuits are pending.