Controversial President Of Chicago Police Union, Already Under Threat Of Firing From Officer Job, Faces New Charges At Police Board

The embattled leader of the city’s largest police union now faces firing from his job as a Chicago police officer in at least two disciplinary investigations, including one where he’s accused of making offensive and incendiary statements on social media and another for allegations he filed a false police report against the city’s former top cop.

New disciplinary charges filed at the Chicago Police Board by the city this week and made public Wednesday stem from an investigation by the Chicago police’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, which concluded that John Catanzara filed a false police report in 2018 against then-police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Catanzara allegedly made allegations Johnson broke the law by allowing marchers on the Dan Ryan Expressway to protest violence in their neighborhoods.

Catanzara is also accused of wrongly identifying a Chicago police commander as an offender in a separate police report that same year, according to the new charges.

Elected last year as president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, Catanzara responded in an email to a Tribune reporter Wednesday morning by writing, “News to me” when asked about the disciplinary charges. He did not comment further.

The new charges mark the third time in his 26-year career as a Chicago cop that Catanzara has faced firing from the department. Two different police superintendents have been unsuccessful in seeking his dismissal.

Catanzara now faces 18 disciplinary charges on nearly a dozen Chicago Police Department rule violations ranging from bringing discredit to the department to encouraging action against it, city officials said.

The new charges were filed to the Chicago Police Board on Tuesday by city officials, including police Superintendent David Brown, who initially sought a one-year suspension for Catanzara on the social media conduct violations. But the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigated that case, recommended his firing.

Catanzara has come under fire in recent weeks for making comments to a local radio station that were sympathetic to a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. But calls for Catanzara’s resignation as FOP president were well underway by then, after city officials revealed in December allegations of racism and other inappropriate behavior against him for a series of Facebook posts on different issues he wrote a few years ago during his time as a patrolman.

The disciplinary charges revealed Wednesday do not reference his controversial comments to the radio station, WBEZ-91.5 FM, but most of them pertain to the Facebook allegations, including one statement from 2017 city officials alleged was disparaging to Muslims, reading, “Savages they all deserve a bullet” in reference to a video of a woman being stoned to death. The post further stated, “This is the reason MANY Americans are leary (sic) of a large segment of Muslim’s (sic) especially those who support Sharia law…This is the life many want to bring to this country.”

In a video statement posted on his Facebook page on Jan. 15, Catanzara sought to bring more context to a few of the posts, insisting the one about the video of the woman being stoned to death was not directed specifically at Muslims. But he apologized to anyone who was “genuinely offended” by it.

Catanzara noted he was not the FOP president at the time of the post and given his current position, he said he wouldn’t post anything comparable to it today. But he still stood by what he wrote.

“I was just an officer, a citizen, an average Joe who was outraged by the treatment of another human being by an uncivilized, savage mob,” Catanzara said. “I call them savages. I will stick to that description to this day. Anybody that acts uncivilized at that level are savages in my opinion. This was not specific to a religion. It was about the actions of a specific mob, who were Muslim, and obviously radical. But I understand the dynamic that some people, whether genuine or for political purposes, want to keep this, you know, scandal alive.

“All I could tell you is, after speaking with the Muslim leaders, and obviously officer yesterday, we had a very healthy discussion about going forward. They understood my perspective and my point and the context, more importantly, to my post,” Catanzara continued. “I am not a perfect person. I strive every day to be better. But I am not, you know, walking back my statement or my post. I’m just giving context to what it was.”

But at the Police Board’s monthly meeting last week, more than 5,000 people were slated to speak, most of them about Catanzara, according to the board. But due to time constraints, two leaders of Muslim advocacy groups spoke at the meeting to express outrage at Catanzara’s comments.

“Calling Muslims savages and deserving a bullet is racist and it’s an incitement for violence against Muslims,” Abdullah Mitchell, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said at the meeting. “This statement in our mind reflects a level of bigotry that cannot be tolerated for any Chicago police officer. So regardless of the circumstances under which he made the statement, for him to use a public forum to express his views encourages violent behavior against Muslims.”

The other speaker echoed that view.

“Some of these comments are just plain disgusting and prejudice against large segments of the Muslim community,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “For him to be so misinformed and to be so prejudiced is a problem.”

Catanzara was elected FOP president in May 2020 despite being relieved of his police powers during the false report investigation by Internal Affairs, in the matter related to Johnson. Catanzara had broached the disciplinary case during public meetings before the Police Board, officials have said.

Catanzara was also accused in the new charges of filing a false police report on Nov. 25, 2018, against a Chicago police commander, who was once his boss in the Chicago Lawn patrol district. The charge alleged that Catanzara wrongly listed him as an offender for “Interference with Public Officer; Obstructing Justice,” and accused Catanzara of falsely identifying himself as a police station supervisor in the report and “providing personal comments and opinions in such report without a valid police purpose.”

While the charges do not specify what was false about the report, Catanzara talked about the commander during a public meeting 10 days before he filed it. In a Nov. 15, 2018, Police Board meeting at police headquarters, also attended by Johnson, Catanzara accused the commander of deleting the report about the Dan Ryan allegations from a CPD database to protect Johnson.

“Superintendent, the definition of ‘obstruction’ is a person who obstructs justice with the intent to prevent the apprehension or obstruct the prosecution or defense of any person he or she (knowingly) commits a crime of the following acts(:) destroy, alters or conceals physical evidence,” Catanzara told Johnson, according to a transcript of the meeting. “There was a case report generated against you for trespassing on the Dan Ryan in the summertime. Commander of the (Chicago Lawn) district who is now in the (Albany Park) District ordered his subordinates to scrub that report from the system to protect you.

“Why does he still got a job? How is that not obstruction of justice? You had police officers hanging out to dry for the (Laquan McDonald) shooting for obstructing and colluding,” Catanzara told Johnson, according to the meeting transcript. “He’s a Commander, a Commander who is in charge of people and did that. Anyone with a blue shirt (patrol officer) would have been stripped immediately … and fired from this Board within weeks.”

Johnson answered, “I really have no idea what you are talking about. I have no idea,” according to the transcript.

From the time he started with the department in January 1995 through mid-2017, Catanzara amassed at least 35 complaints alleging misconduct, records obtained by the Tribune show.

He has been suspended for such infractions as harassing a woman he once dated and working a security job at a restaurant when he was supposed to be on medical leave from the Police Department for a back injury, city records obtained by the nonprofit Invisible Institute show.

In 2012, then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy wanted Catanzara dismissed for working the side job and making false statements about it. But the nine-member Chicago Police Board instead voted 7 to 2 to suspend him for 20 days, records show. Ghian Foreman, who now heads the Police Board, was one of two board members who pushed unsuccessfully for his firing.

And that wasn’t Catanzara’s first near miss. In August 2008, then-Superintendent Jody Weis sought Catanzara’s firing on allegations that he did not follow orders to complete a psychological exam, according to Police Board records. But in February 2009, the board cleared Catanzara in a 5-3 decision.


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