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by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a major victory for Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the City Council Public Safety Committee on Wednesday supported her pick to lead the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, despite opposition from aldermen infuriated by the police watchdog agency’s disciplinary recommendation for slain Police Officer Ella French.
Kersten’s nomination of interim COPA chief administrator Andrea Kersten for the permanent job stalled in committee last month, after it became clear the mayor’s choice didn’t have the votes, with several of her allies absent from the meeting on Jan. 21.
But with more of Lightfoot’s supporters on hand for Wednesday’s committee meeting, Kersten’s nomination passed by a 9-6 vote, sending her nomination to the full City Council for a vote later this month.
Lightfoot nominated Kersten for the COPA post in November, angering many aldermen who opposed her appointment over COPA’s recommendation that French be suspended for three days for her role in the botched raid of Anjanette Young’s home in 2019.
That recommendation was made last April, months before French was shot and killed in the line of duty, and her partner, Officer Carlos Yanez Jr., was critically wounded after they made a traffic stop in Englewood. But the report recommending disciplinary action for French was not made public until three months after her death.
Before nominating Kersten as COPA’s permanent chief, Lightfoot herself had criticized Kersten’s handling of the report recommending French be disciplined, calling it the report the “height of tone-deafness,” but has since stood by her pick, even despite a letter from 20 aldermen opposing Kersten’s appointment.
Kersten has stressed that the recommendation to suspend French for failing to activate her body camera during the raid of Young’s home was not made posthumously, as some have falsely claimed, but has apologized for not doing more to inform French’s family of the recommendation before it was made public.
Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd), who has been one of the most vocal opponents of Kersten’s nomination, asked her Wednesday if she ever apologized to the Gold Star Families, an organization representing the families of police officers who have been killed in the line of duty, for her handling of the report recommending French be suspended.
Kersten said she has apologized several times for not doing more to inform French’s family of the recommendation before it was made public, but has repeatedly stressed she had no choice but to release the full report, and did not have the authority to remove any mention of French after her death.
“I have, in the most heartfelt manner I can, delivered previously on multiple occasions delivered an apology directly to the Gold Star family that was implicated by the release of this information, and certainly to any of the members of the Chicago Police Department who our work impacted through the release of that report,” Kersten said. “I will always feel sorry for the fact and apologize for the fact that that hurt Officer French’s family. That was never my intention, and certainly something that I take no issue with apologizing for.”
Still, that was not enough to sway Tabares.
“I’m still very troubled that COPA took no action, or felt that it was their responsibility to spare Officer Ella French’s family from this unnecessary situation. Frankly, it demonstrates a lack in judgment and responsibility and raises some serious questions,”
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), who has been one of the aldermen leading the charge to vote down Kersten’s nomination, said COPA could have and should have done more to explain its recommendation to discipline French when it released the report.
“There’s no doubt in my mind there could have been an addendum added to this report, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the family could have been given a heads-up; without breaking any rules, or laws, or whatever,” Sposato said.
Sposato has maintained that he has the votes to reject Kersten’s nomination when it comes to a full Council vote.
Ald. Jason Ervin (29th), who chairs the City Council Black Caucus, criticized aldermen opposing Kersten’s nomination, lamenting that they are seeking to block her nomination because she followed the city’s rules.
“What is being done or attempted to be done to Ms. Kersten is a true tragedy,” Ervin said. “This woman has been appointed to do a job, and did a job, and because some of us don’t like the results of what she’s done, we want to castigate her. We need someone in that office that is going to report the facts, not hide the facts, or whitewash, or delete the facts as they occur.”
In a bid to avoid such a problem in the future, Public Safety Committee Chair Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) said the committee next week will be voting on a proposed ordinance to allow COPA to redact from reports the names of police officers who “have died with honor in the line of duty.”
Source: CBS Chicago