CHICAGO – A Chicago police sergeant has accused the department of trying to cover up the circumstances of a shooting in which another sergeant wounded an unarmed teen with disabilities during an off-duty incident on the Far South Side in 2017.
Sgt. Isaac Lambert, a supervisor who was assigned to investigate the shooting, alleges in a lawsuit that a boss dumped him from the detective bureau last month just days after he refused to change a police report to list the other sergeant as the victim of the incident, reported Chicago Tribune.
At a news conference Monday, Lambert, 50, a Chicago officer since 1994, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the lawsuit makes him an unpopular figure within Chicago Police Department.
“I’m going to feel like Serpico, basically,” he said in a reference to a legendary New York cop—Frank Serpico—who decades ago blew the whistle on police corruption and was ostracized by officers. A 1973 movie was made telling the story. The drama-thriller was aptly titled, Serpico.
According to Lambert’s lawyers, the 24-year veteran has won the Carter Harrison Award and the Superintendent’s Award of Valor, two of the city’s highest honors for police officers.
“Always tell the truth and always do what’s right, and don’t ever let some boss, especially someone who sits in an office all day at police headquarters, tell you to put your name on something that’s not right,” he told reporters. “You only have one reputation in life, and make sure that’s one that you can be proud of.”
The suit against the city of Chicago was electronically filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court, Lambert’s lawyers said, but no judge or case number was immediately assigned because the Daley Center courthouse was closed for Pulaski Day.
The allegations stem from the early morning shooting of Ricardo “Ricky” Hayes, then 18, by an off-duty Chicago police sergeant in August 2017 in the Morgan Park neighborhood. Hayes was described in court records as having “profound intellectual and developmental disabilities.” Moreover, he was reported missing about three hours before the shooting. He was shot and wounded in the arm and chest.
Sgt. Khalil Muhammad was the officer involved in the shooting via records released last October by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates police shootings.
Officials in the city’s Law Department could not be reached for comment Monday regarding the allegations due to the holiday. Furthermore, a spokesman for the Police Department declined to comment when reached by email, according to the Tribune.
In a federal lawsuit filed on Hayes’ behalf over the shooting, Muhammad has denied any wrongdoing, court records show. Following the OIS, he was indefinitely placed on paid desk duty.
Hayes’ lawsuit against the city and Muhammad alleges that the sergeant used excessive force, opening fire at Hayes even though he posed no threat.
The legal action by Lambert, filed under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, alleged that Muhammad called Hayes over to his personal vehicle after spotting him “skipping and running” near his residence about 5 a.m. Hayes, who was about 20 feet from the vehicle, took about four steps toward Muhammad’s vehicle when the sergeant opened fire, the lawsuit said.
Video from a home security camera — made public by COPA in October — showed that Hayes never did anything to threaten Muhammad or give him any reason to open fire, Lambert alleged.
Later, at Area South detective headquarters, Muhammad “was not able to provide a coherent or believable explanation” for why he shot Hayes, the suit said.
Once Hayes was brought to the station following his release from the hospital, detectives working the investigation disagreed over what to do with him, according to Lambert. Some detectives and supervisors wanted Hayes charged with aggravated assault or another crime because of Muhammad’s claim that Hayes had threatened him, the suit alleged. But Lambert said he ordered that Hayes not be charged and instead be released to his family.
“Lambert’s decision was based on the facts of the case that were known to him at that time, and included an assessment of Ricardo’s obvious and serious disabilities,” the suit said.
The detective assigned to write a final report with her conclusions on the case was advised by other supervisors to hold off on completing the report, the suit said. However, more than a year after the shooting, the report remained incomplete when the department received a public request for records from the shooting.
The following month, Lambert was ordered by one of his bosses to work with the detective to complete the report due to the records request, according to the suit.
That same month, COPA publicly released the video of the shooting.
Lambert and the detective submitted a draft of the report to his superiors on Oct. 20. But its review by higher-ups in the detective division “dragged on for months and months,” the suit said.
During the review, high-ranking police officials made efforts “to mischaracterize the findings of the investigation” to make it appear Muhammad had been justified in the shooting, the suit alleged.
A key conflict was that Lambert’s superiors wanted Muhammad listed in reports as the “victim” of the incident and the shooting classified as an aggravated assault by Hayes, according to Lambert.
“Lambert reasonably believed that Muhammad was not in any way a ‘victim’ and he refused to order (the detective) to change the report in this way,” the suit said.
On Feb. 14, the detective’s final draft of her report — approved by Lambert — was submitted and “accepted by their superiors,” the suit said.
Five days later, Lambert’s commander said he regretted to tell him that he was being returned to the patrol section effective the next week, according to the suit.
Was it coincidence or retribution? The commander gave no reason for the reassignment but told him the order had come from another high-ranking supervisor.
According to the lawsuit, the police culture has a term for a reassignment under these circumstances; it is known as a “dump.”
“Lambert’s removal from the detective division was because he refused to participate in an effort to cover up the illegal conduct of Muhammad towards Hayes and because he refused (to) falsify police reports in order to mischaracterize a police shooting,” the suit said. “[T]he removal of Lambert from the detective division was an act of retaliation.”
Lambert is seeking unspecified damages as well as his reassignment to the detective bureau “or to some other place within the CPD that is agreeable to him.”
“It seems like the city has to learn its lessons again and again to make any progress at all,” Torreya Hamilton, Lambert’s attorney, told reporters. “You would think that they would have learned their lesson by now with what happened with the Laquan McDonald case, but it doesn’t seem at all that they have.”