CHICAGO (AP) — Attorneys for the city of Chicago have told a federal judge they are prepared to admit to a jury that a code of silence exists within the police department in an attempt to keep Mayor Rahm Emanuel off the witness stand.
But U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman said Friday he would still ask Emanuel to testify in the case of two whistleblower police officers suing the city, explaining that the mayor's testimony could offer "much more texture" on the issue.
Legal experts said it was likely the city would settle rather than allow Emanuel to take the stand in the case, which is set to go to trial May 31. But they said the city's willingness to have attorney's formally acknowledge a code of silence in court was a significant step after years of denials.
Emanuel himself brought up the code of silence problem in a speech in December to the City Council in the midst of protests and calls for his resignation over the death of Laquan McDonald, the black teenager who was killed by a white officer in a shooting caught on police dashcam video.
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins referred to that speech in a statement and said the mayor wouldn't have anything more to offer in court testimony on the issue of officers keeping quiet to protect fellow officers accused of misconduct.
"In December the mayor finally put voice to something we all know to be true," Collins said. "He stands by what he said then, and what he's said since, but we don't believe he can offer anything further of substance in this case."
The lawsuit was brought by two officers who say the department retaliated against them for cooperating with the FBI in an investigation into a narcotics team that was demanding protection money from drug dealers.
Civil rights attorney Flint Taylor told the Chicago Tribune that the city's new position on the code of silence was a "big deal."
"We've been fighting for 25 years to establish that there is a code of silence," Taylor said. "From time to time, we would get an individual cop or supervisor to admit it, but by and large it was denial, denial, denial. When it came up in court, they'd deny it in every form they could."
He said the judge's insistence that Emanuel testify in the whistleblower lawsuit increases the likelihood the city will settle it before a trial.