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CHICAGO -- A Chicago police internal affairs investigator has testified before a federal grand jury about a 2005 memo he wrote questioning whether his bosses ignored alleged misconduct that grew into one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit the Police Department, sources close to the investigation said.
The sources said the investigator, Christopher Taliaferro, testified April 17 before a grand jury probing the Special Operations Section, an elite unit that had wide latitude to search for guns and drugs in gang-infested neighborhoods.
Taliaferro's testimony indicates that federal authorities continue to investigate whether Police Department higher-ups, including internal affairs bosses, allowed SOS officers to incur hundreds of complaints of illegal searches and robberies without stopping them.
The investigator also told federal prosecutors that Debra Kirby, former head of internal affairs, contacted him and asked for a copy of the memo in March when she learned that the Tribune was working on a story about the memo, according to the sources. The Tribune disclosed the existence of Taliaferro's memo March 17.
FBI officials have said Kirby, whom Police Supt. Jody Weis promoted to his chief legal counsel in March, has not been labeled a subject of the federal investigation. Kirby ran internal affairs from late 2003 until early this year, covering much of the time that SOS incurred hundreds of allegations of misconduct. Her division cleared the officers in nearly all of the cases, but the Cook County state's attorney's office later stepped in and criminally charged seven officers.
Five months before Taliaferro's June 2005 memo, Kirby transferred another internal affairs investigator, Bridget McLaughlin, out of the division days after she filed a similar memo that showed eight SOS officers were racking up complaints of illegal searches.
McLaughlin's memo, which the Tribune has reviewed, includes a history of citizen complaints against the eight SOS officers, including Jerome Finnigan, the alleged leader of a ring that falsely arrested and robbed people for years.
FBI and Chicago police officials declined to comment about Taliaferro's testimony.
After joining the investigation last year, the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI charged Finnigan with conspiring to murder a fellow officer he believed was cooperating with authorities.
Federal authorities became involved to determine whether department officials were covering for Finnigan's crew.
In an interview broadcast Sunday night, Keith Herrera, one of the accused officers, told the CBS News program "60 Minutes" that supervisors in SOS routinely encouraged officers to lie on police reports to cover up unauthorized searches. Herrera did not name who encouraged such behavior.
Last fall, a year after the seven SOS officers were charged, the department disbanded the unit as more evidence emerged that officers routinely lied in reports.
The memos written by Taliaferro and McLaughlin suggest that the internal affairs division was aware for years about the alleged pattern of misconduct. Taliaferro addressed his memo to the commanding officer of the general investigations section of internal affairs.
"Based upon all investigative work conducted thus far, and the complaint history of the officers involved, the undersigned strongly believes that a more thorough investigation, that would require surveillance, should be conducted," he wrote.
The memo focused on a May 2004 case in which eight SOS officers, including Finnigan and Herrera, were accused of falsely arresting two factory workers on a phony gun charge and then robbing their houses while they were in custody.
The allegations were similar to hundreds of other complaints against the officers.
Taliaferro argued in his memo that the internal affairs division's methods to that point had been ineffective and that every complaint had gone unproven, or "not sustained."
"If this case is continued through general investigative techniques, it is highly probable that the investigation will conclude in a not sustained finding," he wrote. "As shown above, this will only continue a history of cases not sustained where there is some probability that the misconduct has occurred."
Taliaferro has declined to answer questions from the Tribune, saying it would be inappropriate to comment about an ongoing investigation. He noted in the memo that he had inherited the case from McLaughlin.
In her January 2005 memo, McLaughlin noted that the eight accused SOS officers had compiled more than 250 complaints of misconduct in the previous five years.
Eight days after McLaughlin wrote her memo, Kirby abruptly reassigned her from internal affairs to desk duty usually reserved for officers accused of wrongdoing. But police spokeswoman Monique Bond said Kirby moved McLaughlin for "personnel reasons" rather than disciplinary action. Bond said that Kirby would not comment on the matter further.
More than three years later, McLaughlin is still answering non-emergency phone calls from the public in the department's alternate response unit.
Chicago police officials have maintained that they were investigating the SOS officers for years, at times using confidential techniques that may have been unknown to Taliaferro or others in internal affairs.
In one 2003 case, the Police Department sought charges against Finnigan and another officer for allegedly kidnapping a South Side bar owner and then ransacking his house in Oak Lawn while looking for guns. The state's attorney's office declined to file charges, saying they lacked evidence. The investigation was then dropped, and the department returned the officers to SOS. They continued to incur similar complaints.
David Heinzmann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.