CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer who bragged on camera about having killed someone spent months assigned to the department's team designed to improve police-community relations.
Officer James Hunt, who bragged, "I kill motherf------" during an obscenity-laden rant captured on video in 2018, was assigned to CPD's Community Safety Team around the time it was formed in July 2020. It was intended to combat violent crime and "build and strengthen community relationships citywide," according to the head of the team, Deputy Chief Mike Barz.
Hunt remained on the team until at least early March, when he was reassigned after CBS 2 started asking questions about his placement on the unit.
Hunt meant it when he said he'd killed a person. In 2014, he shot 17-year-old DeSean Pittman 10 times. And during his time as a CPD officer, he's racked up more use of force reports than almost any other officer. With 28 reports between 2016 and July 2020, he has the fifth-most reports during that period, along with three other officers, according to CPD data analyzed by CBS 2.
His troubling track record extends beyond his frequent use of force. It also includes at least 24 complaints made by civilians for everything from using racist language to excessive force to illegal searches and false arrests, according to records from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which handles citizen complaints against police.
And in August 2020, less than a month after the team was formed, Hunt was accused again – this time of an improper stop and racial profiling, according to COPA records reviewed by CBS 2. Hunt wasn't on the team that day, though he had been assigned to it recently. COPA's investigation into that complaint is pending.
Kenneth Lee, the subject of Hunt's vulgar 2018 rant, made one of the more than two dozen complaints after the incident — which ended with Hunt falsely arresting Lee.
Lee's encounter with Hunt didn't end with the officer's boasts of killing someone. According to COPA, Hunt intentionally escalated the situation, used his position of power as a police officer to intimidate Lee and failed to extend "human dignity to every citizen."
Lee eventually sued the city and won a $100,000 settlement. In its report, COPA said Hunt should be suspended for a full year because of the incident, and CPD agreed. But Hunt has yet to serve that suspension because he's appealing the disciplinary case, police said.
In the meantime, Hunt has been serving on the police department's Community Safety Team, according to CBS 2's review of the team's assignments.
An initiative created by new CPD Supt. David Brown, the team was formed in July 2020 to combat a rise in violent crime that started during the pandemic. The initiative began with about 300 officers whose mission was to fight crime and improve trust between citizens and police. Since then, over 1,000 total officers have been assigned to the team since last year.
"Every week, [Community Safety] teams will partner with local block clubs, faith-based organizations and community leaders to participate in peace marches, prayer circles, operation clean missions, food drives, COVID-19 resource distributions and more," Brown said when he announced the team's creation.
The assignment of Hunt, who COPA previously said "did more harm to breakdown [sic] police/public relations than witnessed in a long time," raises questions about the team's ability to meet its goal of building community trust.
Richard Schak, a former CPD sergeant, said the fact that Hunt is on the team "looks terrible."
Schak, who worked at CPD for more than two decades, said Hunt's assignment to the team suggests the department's accountability system has failed.
"Based on news reports, it just doesn't look like the accountability apparatus has been applied," Schak said.
Since the Community Safety Team was announced in July, its performance has been fraught. In August, less than a month after the team was formed, two of its officers shot 20-year-old Latrell Allen five times. Police claimed Allen fired a gun at the officers — which Allen's mother denied to CBS 2's Dave Savini — but neither officer was wearing a body camera.
And in January, a CPD lieutenant claimed the team was using illegal arrest quotas, mandating that officers arrest a minimum number of people each day. He sued the city, alleging he was reassigned in retaliation after refusing to comply and bringing the issue to the attention of supervisors.
Chicago's police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, declined to comment on this story.
When asked why Hunt was placed on the team, CPD Spokesperson Don Terry said that the team was formed from officers previously on several other specialized units, one of which included Hunt, and that "as soon as this issue was identified, Officer Hunt was reassigned from the unit."
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