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Aldermen Furious Over Lightfoot's Pick To Lead COPA, After Agency Recommended Suspension For Slain CPD Officer Ella French

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Mayor Lori Lightfoot has tapped the interim leader of Chicago's police watchdog agency for the permanent job, despite a letter from 20 aldermen who say they are "vehemently opposed" to the appointment over a recent disciplinary report that recommended fallen Officer Ella French be suspended.

Lightfoot has nominated Andrea Kersten as the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a pick that requires City Council confirmation, but 20 aldermen have already come out against Kersten's appointment in an angry letter released hours before the mayor announced her pick.

The aldermen said COPA's report on the botched 2019 raid at the home of Anjanette Young should disqualify Kersten from leading the agency, because the report recommended French be suspended for three days for not wearing a body camera during the wrong raid at Young's home in February 2019.

The report was prepared before French was shot and killed in the line of duty, but many aldermen and even Lightfoot and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown have said the report should have been amended or redacted to remove mention of French in light of her death.

Lightfoot last week said it was "the height of tone deafness" for the recommended discipline for French to be included in the COPA report after she was killed.

"I am disappointed, and I think they could have taken different actions," she said. "It just doesn't make sense that COPA made this decision."

Nonetheless, Lightfoot nominated Kersten to permanently take the reins at COPA. Kersten has been serving as interim chief administrator of COPA since former chief Sydney Roberts resigned in May.

"Andrea Kersten is a longtime and dedicated public servant who brings a lifetime of relevant experience and subject matter expertise to the role of Chief Administrator," she said in a statement. "During her time as interim-Chief Administrator, Andrea has done incredible work leading the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, including completing the backlog of inherited open investigations of Chicago's prior civilian oversight agency, IPRA. At a time when independent and civilian-led police accountability have never been more important, I have the utmost confidence in Andrea's ability to lead COPA with transparency, integrity, and dedication to the office's important role."

Before Lightfoot's announcement, a group of 20 aldermen sent Lightfoot a letter urging her not to pick Kersten to head up COPA, saying they are "dismayed, disheartened and outraged" over the COPA report recommending French be suspended over her role in the raid on Young's home.

"As such, we are vehemently opposed to Interim Chief Administrator Kersten being named Chief Administrator of COPA," aldermen wrote. "In these days of civil unrest and rising crime, we need someone at the helm of COPA who possesses the emotional and practical intelligence to navigate the many volatile situations that they will face in this role. The City is having significant trouble maintaining adequate numbers on its Police force. As a result, crime is on the rise and people do not feel safe on our streets or in their own homes."

The aldermen claimed naming Kersten to lead COPA would be detrimental to the city and an insult to French's memory.

"Morale is low, tensions are running high, and COPA releases a report tainting the legacy of fallen Officer French and recommending disciplinary action against her?" the letter adds. "All this report does is further alienate our Chicago Police officers at a time when it is imperative that we begin rebuilding their trust in this administration and in the people who are supposed to have their backs."

The aldermen who signed the letter are: Brian Hopkins (2nd), Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), George Cardenas (12th), Marty Quinn (13th), Edward Burke (14th), David Moore (17th), Matt O'Shea (19th), Jeanette Taylor (20th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Emma Mitts (37th), Nicholas Sposato (38th), Samantha Nugent (39th), Andre Vasquez (40th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and James Gardiner (45th)

"We are facing a public safety crisis and Ms. Kersten's actions are not only a slap in the face to law enforcement, but salt in the wounds to Ofc. French's family and co-workers," Sposato aid in a statement. "Kersten's decision to unnecessarily try to dishonor Ella French's name was petty and calls to question her ability to do her job without bias."

Kersten's nomination could face a tough fight in the City Council if more aldermen come forward to oppose her. The nomination requires 26 aldermen to approve the pick.


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