Chicago cop who faced dismissal over role in violent arrest is suspended for 6 months
The Chicago Police Board on Thursday voted to suspend an officer for six months without pay and reinstate two others six years after they were involved in a violent arrest at a Humboldt Park convenience store.
Former Police Supt. David Brown had recommended Officer Chavez Siler be discharged from the department in August 2021 for allegedly violating five departmental rules, including unnecessarily using his weapon by repeatedly hitting a suspect with his gun.
Brown had recommended that Officers Corey Boone and Robert Clark, who were also involved in the arrest, be dismissed for their alleged roles in the incident.
The move set in motion trial-like disciplinary proceedings that began in January. Witnesses gave testimony before the board, and members viewed surveillance footage of the incident.
The board found that Siler’s actions during the incident were justified up to a specific moment in the encounter, at which point his actions were no longer appropriate, resulting in the suspension.
Steven Block was the only police board member to vote against Siler’s suspension.
The board also voted unanimously in favor of finding Clark and Boone not guilty of using excessive force and reinstating them to the department. All three officers had been placed on no-pay status after Brown filed charges against them.
The incident began early on March 15, 2017, when a security guard at a mini-mart in the 3700 block of West Chicago Avenue told Siler and Officer Michael Benamon that an armed man was inside the store, according to COPA. Brown’s letter to the police board identifies the man as 27-year-old Charles Whitehead.
As the officers tried to detain Whitehead inside the store, a struggle ensued, and Siler struck Whitehead with his gun — despite Whitehead’s apparent efforts to comply with orders to raise his hands. As they wrestled inside the store, Benamon also punched Whitehead before disarming him, COPA reported.
“I got it,” COPA quoted Benamon as saying before he handed the Glock handgun to Boone as he arrived.
After the gun was recovered, COPA said Siler continued aiming his weapon at Whitehead and “pistol-whipping” him in the face, even as he lay on the ground. Siler also called on someone else to use a Taser on Whitehead’s face as Benamon kneeled on him in front of a cooler, prompting Boone to shock Whitehead in the back.
The board found that Siler had reason to believe that Whitehead was still armed and therefore his actions were not excessive. “Siler was using force, but this force was not excessive,” according to the document outlining the decision. “Relatedly, the board finds these strikes did not rise to the level of deadly force.
“The board also finds that Respondent Siler was utilizing his gun as an impact weapon for the proper purpose of establishing control and disabling Whitehead, who was continuing to resist, rather than for improper, punitive purposes,” the document states.
The board noted that his action’s were not inconsistent with any aspect of CPD policy at the time.
Boone and Clark were also found to have used force “proportional to the threat,” according to the document. The two officers had also been accused of making false statements to investigators, but the board found them not guilty of those charges after viewing surveillance footage.
But at some point during the incident Whitehead’s hands got stuck in his jacket, and Siler had the opportunity to de-escalate the situation.
“Unfortunately, Siler decided not to take that opportunity to de-escalate. Instead, he continued striking Whitehead with his gun despite no longer having lawful justification to do so,” the document states. “What was once an appropriate level of force for the situation was now excessive.”
Board votes to fire officer who used racial slur in 2019 arrest
The board also voted Thursday to fire an officer who threatened a suspect and used a racial slur during an arrest in 2019 and made false statements after causing a crash with a teen on a bike in 2018.
In a unanimous vote, Officer Jose Troche-Vargas was found guilty of engaging in two unjustified altercations and making a false report, according to a written ruling by the board.
The administrative charges stemmed from remarks he allegedly made during an arrest on June 28, 2019, in the 2200 block of North Kimball Avenue.
“I’m not the one to f— with, I’ll tell you that right now, n—–.” Troche-Vargas allegedly told the person he was arresting, using a racial epithet. “I don’t need no f—— badge, I don’t need no f—— gun. I will beat your mother f—— a—, b—-. … You’re lucky I have a camera on me, or I would f— you up.”
The other incident happened Feb. 15, 2018, near 5353 W. Altgeld Street around 5:18 p.m. Troche Vargas was off-duty and driving his personal vehicle when he slammed on his brake, causing a crash with a 14-year-old boy who was riding a bike, according to the document outlining the charges.
The officer got out of his vehicle, grabbed the minor and performed a “take-down,” tackling the boy in the street and placing him under arrest. But in his arrest report, Troche-Vargas wrote that he and the boy merely “fell to the ground.”
Contributing: David Struett, Tom Schuba