The plea comes a month after a jury awarded $8.5 million to the family of 18-year-old Aaron Harrison, who was shot in the back and killed by a police officer in North Lawndale six years ago.
The appointed Independent Police Review Authority, which reviews alleged police misconduct, had ruled the officer’s actions were justifiable, as it does in virtually all complaints it considers.
Harrison’s family filed a civil lawsuit against both the city and the officer, “>who said he shot Harrison because he saw the teen pull out a gun.
The defense argued police testimony was inconsistent. One witness said a gun found next to Harrison’s body was planted there. The jury ruled in favor of the Harrison family Aug. 15.
Last week, area pastors and Harrison’s aunt, Ashunda Harris, said at a press conference in front of police headquarters that at least one “respected community leader” should serve on the Independent Police Review Authority to ensure an unbiased, non-police opinion for future reviews of misconduct cases.
“In this case, the truth came out. But we don’t know how many cases (it doesn’t) because this system is broken,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch of the New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park.
Cases can be categorized in five different ways when the Independent Police Review Authority looks at a police-related shooting. A case that’s “sustained” means a police officer is at fault in the complaint, according to the Authority’s most recent annual report.
In the first three quarters of 2012, the Review Authority “sustained” 6 percent of the 1,433 complaints it closed, according to the report.
The rest of the reviewed cases fell in four other categories: there wasn’t enough proof to determine an outcome, it was determined to be a false allegation, there weren’t sworn statements from witnesses to the alleged misconduct or they were ruled legal, such as shooting in self-defense.
Pastors said a community leader should at least be allowed to look over the Independent Police Review Authority’s annual report before it’s made available to the public. That would allow an independent person to give feedback and tell the public how effective the body had been that year.
The pastor’s requests come as a special committee – appointed by the mayor – searches for a new director for the Independent Police Review Authority.
Harrison’s aunt stressed the community needs the police, but it also needs people – like a community pastor or former journalist – to keep a check on officers.
Ideally, the LEADER’S Network – which stands for Leaders for Empowerment, Advocacy, and Disaster Relief Support – wants the entire board made up of community citizens to ensure unbiased review of possible police misconduct.
“When regular citizens saw Aaron’s case with a different lens, the truth came forward,” said Rev. Acree.