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Good cops, bad cops: a former public housing cop faces charges--six years after the alleged incident. Some say it's punishment for taking on corruption.

Ask LeRoy O'Shield about the state of corruption in Chicago's law enforcement community, and he quickly reaches his boiling point.

Real corruption exists, says O'Shield, a former Chicago Housing Authority police chief and, before that, a 29-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. But he says his years of calling for federal investigations into narcotics dealings in Chicago have simply left him tagged as an outsider, subject to "the full wrath of the police department." As evidence, he points to the unusual Cook County grand jury indictment this year of Donnie Hixon.

Long after most comparable cases would have been forgotten, Hixon, who once led the CHA unit investigating misconduct among its own officers, was indicted in May for allegedly pressuring the state's attorney to drop a routine 1998 drug possession case that he maintains was a set-up. The case was originally scheduled to go to trial this September, but the date has been pushed back several times.

But both O'Shield and Hixon believe the case is about much more than the original drug arrest. "There was enough information for any reasonable man to know something [was] improper with this arrest," O'Shield told The Chicago Reporter this fall. He now asks: "Why did they go after Donnie Hixon for going after corrupt officers?"

Hixon said an incident four years ago sheds some light. In 1999, he said, a representative from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office approached him, alluded to the case and offered him a deal: County prosecutors were investigating O'Shield, and wanted Hixon's help.

"'We can make this go away if you have something on the chief of police,'" Hixon said he was told. Hixon, who now lives in Florida, said he told them he knew of no wrongdoing by O'Shield. He said he didn't know the prosecutor's name.

Tom Stanton, a spokesman for Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine, said he had no knowledge of any deal offered to Hixon. The recent indictment resulted from "an overarching investigation into the CHA police," and Hixon was named after he was located in Florida, Stanton said. Stanton added that he did not know if the investigation produced any other results. And Stanton said that, this May, Hixon stated he knew the allegations he made in 1998 were not true.

Hixon denied having any contact with the state's attorney's office this year. He said he left a forwarding address with the CHA, and received mail from the agency after he moved.

He is charged with one count of obstructing justice and two counts of official misconduct, all felonies punishable by one to five years in prison.

The drug bust at the center of Hixon's indictment took place on an unseasonably warm and rainy January morning in 1998. Eric Henley, a 32-year-old resident of the South Side's Harold Ickes Homes, was arrested by CHA police officers for a common offense in the city's public housing developments: drug possession. Nothing about this was remarkable, as Henley already had a long string of arrests and, in a later case, was deemed a drug addict by court-appointed experts. But Hixon, then the head of the CHA's Internal Inspections Division, suspected foul play after receiving a tip from a city of Chicago police officer.

Hixon told the Reporter this fail that a formal investigation had shown that the three arresting officers violated many procedures. Before the officers produced the crack cocaine that they allegedly found on Henley, they handcuffed him to a metal chair in a CHA police station. Without calling in the arrest to headquarters, as required, two of them then left the station with a pair of bolt-cutters and didn't return for almost half an hour. "That's a big problem," Hixon said.

After they returned, Henley was taken to a Chicago Police Department station, where he complained of unfair treatment. One of the officers on duty alerted Hixon.

Although Hixon said he couldn't prove the officers planted the drugs, the fact that they claimed they never left the CHA police station, much less with bolt-cutters, coupled with other violations, led him to recommend their termination to O'Shield, he said.

And on March 19, 1998, Hixon claims, he went to Henley's appearance at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse and told this to the prosecutor. Court files show that the case was then continued, and, on June 18, 1998, the state told the court it would not prosecute Henley.

The indictment alleges that Hixon did this for Henley's "personal advantage." Hixon flatly denies the charge. "I had never seen this man before in my life," he said.

He admits it was unusual for him to go to a court hearing. Although he had recommended other officers for termination, the cases "had nothing to do with a prisoner or an arrest per se."

He also said he did not know Henley had been arrested by a different set of CHA officers later that year for similar offenses. This time the drug possession charges stuck, and Henley was sentenced to three years in prison. He has since been released.

Hixon said he did not know what motive the three officers would have had, though he speculated they knew Henley was a habitual drug user. Even so, "if it's not there, it's not there," he said. "Don't plant drugs, and don't use creative writing."

But, as members of the Fraternal Order of Police, which also represents city police officers, the CHA cops could only be fired after a lengthy administrative process.

"All I could do was recommend to human resources that these individuals be terminated," O'Shield said.

The issue of disciplining the officers became moot in 1999, when the CHA's police department was disbanded after the federal government returned control of the CHA to the city.

Neither O'Shield nor Hixon heard anything else about the officers or the Henley incident until this May. Normally, the statute of limitations invalidates charges after three years, but it was suspended when Hixon moved out of state in 2000, according to the indictment.

O'Shield said the worst aspect of Hixon's indictment is that other CHA officers were guilty of serious crimes. "I never had a core group of officers I could depend on," O'Shield said, adding that, out of approximately 350 people on the force, he fully trusted fewer than 10.

Problems with arrests were not uncommon, O'Shield said. And before he put Hixon in charge, the internal inspections unit was not doing its job. "They were covering up and tearing up investigations," he said.

Hixon joined the department in 1992 and moved over to internal affairs in 1995. "It was in disarray," Hixon said. One of his earliest cases, he added, involved an officer who fired his gun in a resident's apartment. "She gave me the casing, [but] my boss [at the time] wanted me to throw it away," Hixon said. "We terminated the police officer, but they gave me a hard time."

O'Shield promoted Hixon to command the eight-person internal affairs unit because he found him to be an "extremely competent individual who had integrity."

When federal investigators ran a sting operation in 1999, three other CHA officers were arrested and later convicted of stealing narcotics and cash from drug dealers. Special Agent Ross Rice, a spokesman for the Chicago FBI, told the Reporter that Hixon's department "assisted materially in the investigation."

O'Shield's tenure ended when the city was given control, and, approximately one month later, Hixon was transferred to another CHA job, he said. "I went from being commander of internal affairs to moving furniture in a warehouse," he said.

"I've had an impeccable record, and all this has been overwhelming," Hixon said. "It's one of the reasons I left the state. I felt I was up against things I couldn't control."

Justina Wang helped research this article.
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Title Annotation:Keeping Current
Author:Rogal, Brian J.
Publication:The Chicago Reporter
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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