Chicago alderman’s complaint sparks CPD investigation for journalist’s source

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25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez
25th Ward Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Progressive Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez filed a CPD complaint to find the source who leaked a CPD memo to a Sun-Times reporter.

A progressive alderman, angry that he learned about a public safety issue in his ward from a Sun-Times article rather than police, filed a complaint with the Chicago Police Department last summer that sparked an internal investigation to find the source of the memo that formed the basis of the story, records show.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) says he did so because he questioned whether the memo was accurate. It warned Near West District personnel that gang members in the Pilsen area could be planning to target officers following a police-involved shooting on Aug. 31 that killed 26-year-old Miguel Vega.

Sigcho-Lopez said he learned of the memo after reading the Sun-Times article on his phone and was concerned the leak of the information would have the potential to cause civil unrest in his ward, according to CPD documents obtained through a public records request.

After reading the article, Sigcho-Lopez called Near West District Cmdr. Gabriella Shemash to ask why the memo had not been shared with him, saying she had “agreed to keep him in the loop,” documents show.

“I was angry with the Chicago Police Department,” Sigcho-Lopez said in a recent phone interview. “When a public safety issue affects my constituents and we find out first from the news . . . I think it’s a clear sign there’s no accountability.”

Sigcho-Lopez said he was unsatisfied with the information Shemash provided him about the memo, so he reached out to city Inspector General Joe Ferguson by email, asking him to “open an investigation on the 12th District of the Chicago Police Department about an internal memo that was leaked to the press.”

The Office of the Inspector General referred the matter to CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, records show.

“In some instances, if there is a OIG complaint for which another entity also has investigative jurisdiction, the decision may be made to refer that matter directly that agency or department for investigation,” a spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office said.

On Sept. 17, Sigcho-Lopez signed a complaint at CPD Headquarters about the leak, prompting an investigation to identify the source of the memo. The Sun-Times refused to provide any information regarding the source.

Sigcho-Lopez said the complaint did not capture the breadth of his concerns and that the complaint was written by Internal Affairs investigators, though he acknowledged he signed it.

“In my email to the Inspector General requesting the investigation, I was clear that my focus was on the effect the leak of this memo would have in the community and the irregular CPD process regarding information sharing,” the alderman said in an emailed statement. “My concern wasn’t about the individual ‘leaker’ but rather the credibility of the memo, the fact that it hadn’t been shared first with trusted community leaders who use conversation and not intimidation, and the irregular CPD information sharing process.”

Sigcho-Lopez said he questioned both the timing of the leak and its information, which came as protesters were demanding the release of CPD body-camera footage in Vega’s shooting.

Records of the investigation show the information about a potential threat to officers came from the district’s intelligence officer, who is tasked with tracking information area gang activities.

The alderman said the memo should not have been released, even to officers, unless the police department could prove how they had verified the information. Sigcho-Lopez also said he was concerned the warning to officers could put people in his community in danger.

“The police has a memo that says, you need to look out, you’re being targeted, basically, that could put us in a very tense and potentially volatile situation,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “That’s why I asked for an investigation.”

Records of a police interview with Sigcho-Lopez do not show that he brought up any concerns about how the memo’s contents were verified at the time of his interview with police.

Internal Affairs closed the investigation on Nov. 2 and classified the complaint as “not sustained” after concluding that “all available means have been exhausted and currently there is no objective for verifiable evidence to identity” who leaked the memo.

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February 7, 2021 at 01:35PM

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