An attempt to oust a former president of the union representing thousands of rank-and-file Chicago police officers failed after the local’s executive board refused Tuesday to impose any discipline.
The allegations against Dean Angelo Sr. had been brought by Martin Preib, a second vice president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police who was part of the slate headed by Kevin Graham, who beat Angelo in a heated election for the three-year post in April 2017.
Preib sought to have Angelo, who sits on the executive board as immediate past president, thrown out of the union for speaking to the news media during then-Officer Jason Van Dyke’s trial last fall for the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Preib alleged that Angelo violated union bylaws by misrepresenting himself as the FOP’s spokesman while talking to reporters covering the trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
A special three-member disciplinary panel appointed by the union to look into the allegations found no evidence of wrongdoing and recommended no disciplinary action be taken against Angelo, according to sources.
The FOP’s executive board, meeting in private Tuesday, backed that recommendation, voting to clear Angelo of wrongdoing, the sources said.
In a statement late Tuesday, Angelo said he felt vindicated by the decision. “This (inquiry) is something that should never have happened,” he said.
In the 2017 union election, members of the current FOP leadership campaigned on a vow to take a more confrontational approach to reforming the Police Department, castigating Angelo and others as too accommodating.
Preib has been particularly outspoken, alleging the media and civil rights lawyers falsely accuse police of misconduct. The union’s official communications have adopted this theory, accusing media outlets of nurturing a “bloodthirsty antipathy to the police.”
If found guilty of violating bylaws, Angelo would have faced a range of penalties from a written sanction to a fine or even expulsion from the FOP.
In an October letter obtained by the Chicago Tribune, Preib told the union’s executive board he had filed charges against Angelo on allegations he had misrepresented himself as the FOP spokesman when he spoke to reporters on Sept. 19 and 20 during Van Dyke’s trial.
The FOP played a visible role during the trial, picking up the tab for much of the officer’s legal defense and showing up in support in the courtroom.
During breaks in the trial, Angelo, who regularly sat by Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, often spoke to reporters gathered in the courthouse’s front lobby.
In several of those interviews — routinely recorded by the Tribune — Angelo qualified his comments by noting he was not representing the FOP or Chicago police. Instead, he said he was speaking as a retired department veteran with two adult children now on the police force and as a Van Dyke family friend.
On Sept. 19, reporters asked Angelo about the recent death of Jon Burge, a disgraced former Chicago police commander who went to prison for lying about torturing African-American suspects to coerce confessions to murder.
Angelo prefaced his remarks by saying he had been with the department for 37½ years, his last three as FOP president.
Angelo then defended Burge, saying, “I don’t know that Jon Burge got a fair shake based on the years and years of service that he gave the city. But we’ll have to wait and see how that eventually plays out in history.”
That same day, the FOP posted condolences for Burge on social media as well as a similarly supportive message asserting that the “full story” about Burge had never been told.
In the Oct. 5 letter detailing the charges, however, Preib characterized Angelo’s comments on Burge as “inflammatory statements that were not condoned by the Lodge and which jeopardized the legal and media strategy of a high-profile criminal case against a fellow member.”
The letter, dated the same day a Cook County jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for each time the 17-year-old McDonald was shot, alleged Angelo “failed to engage in and carry on such functions that will serve the best interests of this organization and our membership.”
Angelo’s time as FOP president was rocked by the fallout over the court-ordered release of the police dashboard camera video showing Van Dyke, a white officer, shooting the black teen as he walked away from police with a knife in his hand.
During the campaign, Graham and Preib went after Angelo for, among other things, not pushing back against allegations of police misconduct that they deemed to be false.
Neither Graham nor Preib could be reached for comment on the vote rejecting disciplinary action for Angelo. Under Graham’s leadership, the FOP routinely declines to comment to the Tribune.
The current FOP leadership suffered a blow last week when a federal appeals court rejected the union’s attempt to intervene in court in attempts to reform the Police Department. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that the FOP waited too long to try to intervene in litigation against the city to force a consent decree.
The FOP has aligned itself with President Donald Trump, whose administration has argued too much police oversight could lead to increased violence on the street — a point on which the union leadership agrees.
Van Dyke’s guilty verdict marked the first time in half a century that a Chicago police officer was convicted of murder in an on-duty incident.
Testimony also ended last month in the trial of a former police detective and two officers who were criminally charged with conspiring to exaggerate McDonald’s actions to try to justify the 2014 shooting by Van Dyke. A judge deciding their fate is scheduled to announce her decision Jan. 17.