Newly obtained records reveal a Chicago police officer was suspended for a day without pay after letting multiple cases drag on for years, including the investigation of a 2016 fatal hit-and-run accident.
The van that hit and killed Frank Cruz in August 2016 while riding his bike on the city’s West Side had a phone number and the name of a business on its side. Within four days, reports obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show Chicago police received multiple pieces of information, including the location of the abandoned van and the suspect’s name and home address. Five years will pass before they make an arrest.
“I’ve spoken with so many people who are deeply, deeply frustrated with the bicycle and pedestrian safety situation here, or really the lack thereof, across the city. And we’ve seen far too many tragedies,” said declared the 47th Ward Ald. Matt Martin. “You need to feel comfortable and confident that when you move around your community, or any other community in the city, on foot, on a bike, it will be safe.”
Martin was one of the city council’s most vocal advocates of bicycle and pedestrian safety and worked on police accountability issues before his election.
“If you find yourself in a situation where you have the make, model and license plate number, I think it is reasonable to assume that you can at the very least know who owns this vehicle,” said he declared. “For a lot of people, and I’ve heard of it personally, they think that five years when you have certain types of information can feel like a very, very long time. And so for me, that raises a lot of questions in my mind.”
In the two months since NBC’s ‘Left for Dead’ series 5 Investigates revealed Chicago’s hit-and-run crisis, the cases that were unsolved at the time – despite major evidence like left vehicles for account – still have not seen an arrest, as the crisis continued across the city. reports Alex Maragos.
NBC 5 Investigates filed nearly a dozen public records requests on this case alone to find out exactly what happened, obtaining surveillance video that clearly shows the van hitting Cruz and fleeing the scene, as well as hundreds of pages of reports, internal CPD emails, disciplinary actions. files and more.
An email sent by the lead investigator on the case shows she turned down an offer of help from Cook County CrimeStoppers just days after the crash.
‘Thank you for your interest in this case, but your assistance is not needed at this time,’ the officer wrote, adding that police were ‘building a case to prosecute’ Creshon Harris – the same suspect who was eventually arrested. in September 2021. Harris pleaded not guilty to one count of failing to report an accident resulting in death.
NBC 5 Investigates also obtained more than a dozen emails from the agent’s supervisors in 2019 and 2020 reminding him to close this case and several others.
Newly obtained documents show she was reprimanded in February 2019 for failing to complete her investigations and “failed to provide…justifiable explanations”.
A few months later, she was disciplined again, records show. This second time, her commanding officer noted that she hadn’t demonstrated any work on some cases “literally for YEARS,” the filing says.
“This chronic backlog forced her supervisors to reassign many jobs on trial and remove her from rotation,” the commander wrote, calling the actions “unfair to her colleagues.”
More than three years after the accident that killed Cruz, what was the punishment she received for letting her things drag on? One day suspension without pay.
“What people want to see is more accountability. They want to see these cases handled faster and more efficiently,” Martin said.
“If anyone in any department is not doing their job properly, especially when co-workers, when supervisors have consistently brought this to the attention – we need to make sure those people are held accountable and that we have processes to follow to ensure that this does not happen so often,” he added.
In one of Chicago’s extremely rare hit-and-runs that actually saw an arrest, investigators not only had an image of the van that killed a man, it had a phone number painted on the side – but it did. still took the police five years. make an arrest. Reporting by Phil Rogers of NBC 5 Investigates.
Cruz’s case was reassigned to another officer in November 2020, and the first investigator retired from the department three months later.
But the inaction in this case and others has come as Chicago has seen the number of hit-and-runs steadily rise and the number of arrests decline.
So far this year, Chicago has seen more than 21,000 hit-and-run crashes, killing at least 17 and injuring more than 2,800, according to city data. Compare that to five years ago: By this date in 2017, the city had recorded about 11,000 hit-and-runs, killing six people and injuring about 950 others.
Data analyzed by NBC 5 Investigates shows that Chicago police made arrests in just 0.3% of all hit-and-runs in 2021. The most recent arrest rate reported by the Los Angeles Police Department was 8%.
The CPD’s arrest rate “seems to be a much, much lower number than we’d like to see when we’re talking about holding accountable people who have caused so much harm and so much tragedy,” Martin said.
“We can do better. We have to do better with situations where, especially compared to our peer cities, we’re, you know, a tenth of their situation,” he continued, adding, “That should really ring a bell. the alarm.”
Neither the Chicago Police Department nor the lead investigator on that case responded to requests for comment.