When CTA supervisor Martesa Lee attempted to lodge a complaint against a Chicago police officer in February, she was given a choice:
“Is it worth it to you?” Chicago police Sgt. William Spyker asked her.
Authorities arrested Lee in front of her co-workers and a platform of CTA riders after she informed the sergeant she would not let the matter go. With her hands cuffed behind her back and tears streaming down her face, she refused additional opportunities to retract her grievance and regain her freedom.
“He pushed me,” she said, again and again.
The incident, captured on police body camera videos obtained by the Tribune, exemplifies the kind of small, typically undocumented occurrences that can erode community trust in the Chicago Police Department, especially at a time of renewed focus on law enforcement conduct nationally. Critics contend it highlights, yet again, a decades-old “code of silence” — an unwritten understanding that officers protect one another at all cost — that has led to federal oversight of the department in recent years.
In this case, not only did the sergeant immediately dismiss Lee, he had the officer who was the subject of her complaint cuff her.
“This is precisely how the code of silence works,” said Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who specializes in police accountability issues. “It’s controlling that narrative, it’s manufacturing that narrative in a way that protects the officer from discipline and hides ongoing police abuse.”A Chicago Police Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the incident, saying it is under review by the city agency tapped to investigate officer misconduct.
The officers involved in the incident declined interview requests made through their attorney. Both denied any wrongdoing in court documents connected to a lawsuit Lee filed after her arrest.
“We cannot answer your specific questions due to the pending litigation, but we dispute the allegations of this case and will continue to defend our position,” said Kathleen Fieweger, spokeswoman for the City of Chicago Law Department, which is representing the officers.
Lee, 35, was about to start the second half of her swing shift Feb. 4, when a call came over her CTA radio for a supervisor needed immediately at the Red Line’s Jackson stop. Though her shift wouldn’t start for another 15 minutes, Lee responded she was close and could handle it.
The public transit agency appointed her as its incident commander at the scene.
When Lee arrived at the stop, she saw musician Michael Malinowski, a street performer best known as “Machete Mike” for the way he shreds on his electric guitar, standing shirtless and bleeding on the track. She sought help for him, then began assessing the situation to determine whether the trains should bypass the station or continue normal operations.As she was making the determination, she says, Chicago police arrived on the scene. She had worked alongside officers countless times before as a supervisor overseeing several Loop stops, so she continued handling her job as they began doing theirs.
Authorities charged a 38-year-old woman with a long criminal history and a possible mental illness in connection with Malinowski’s ѕтɑЬЬɪпɡ. According to police, the woman told Malinowski she wasn’t in the mood for his music before ѕʟɑѕһɪпɡ his arm, damaging his amplifier and tossing his guitar on the tracks.
Authorities quickly determined the platform was a crime scene, but they could not cordon it off because they didn’t have enough of their standard yellow tape to do so, according to the body camera recordings.
More than a dozen people walked through the unmarked crime scene before Officer Raymond Haran spotted Lee doing the same. He called out to her as she spoke with the CTA control center over her radio.
“You need to get out of the crime scene, ma’am,” he said. “Please get out of the crime scene.”
Lee held up her hand to him, indicated that she was on the radio and kept walking along the platform. The officer followed her, grabbed her by the elbow and physically steered her out of the unmarked area.“Do not touch me,” Lee told Haran.
“Do not go in the crime scene,” Haran replied.
“I’m doing my job,” Lee said. “Don’t touch me.”
The interaction lasted just 31 seconds and ended with both going back to work, according to a body camera recording. Haran made no mention of arresting Lee and later said on video that, from his perspective, the incident was “over” at that point.
Seven minutes later, Lee approached Sgt. Spyker on the scene and noted that he was the “white shirt” there, police slang for a supervisor. Lee, in her job with the CTA, also wears a white shirt to indicate her position of authority.
She told Spyker, a 22-year CPD veteran, she had an “issue” with one of his officers.
“I was walking and talking. They (the CTA control center staff) were telling me to assess the situation,” she said. “He grabbed me and pushed me.”
“Oh, maybe you were in the crime scene. I’m not sure,” Spyker said in a friendly tone. “He wouldn’t grab you just for no reason.”
“He grabbed me and pushed me. Clearly, it can be seen, too, (on the body camera),” Lee responded, adding she “wanted something to be done.”At that point, Lee told the Tribune last week, she still considered herself on the same team as the officers because of her role with the transit authority. The two city agencies often work side by side when incidents like this one occur, and her CTA booth had always been a place where officers could stop to warm up or have a friendly conversation.
She said she initially had no intention making a formal complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency that investigates allegations of officer misconduct. She only wanted a fair airing of her grievances and for Haran to understand why she believed he had crossed a line when he touched her.
The situation, however, quickly escalated when Spyker warned Lee that her complaint could prove problematic for her.
“If he tells me that you were obstructing the crime scene, we’re going to arrest you,” Spyker said.
“You aren’t going to arrest me for doing my job,” Lee told him.
“Yes, we are,” the sergeant said. “That’s the way it’s gonna go if you want to complain.”
Spyker called Haran over to discuss the situation. The police officer denied pushing Lee but acknowledged he touched her arm as he pulled her away from crime scene. The video shows at least a dozen people — including Spyker — walked through the unmarked area before the police tape arrived.
Both Haran and Lee insisted his body camera would prove their version of events.
“You’re not done with it?” Spyker asked Lee.
“Oh, I’m not,” Lee replied.
Spyker then turned to Haran, who had asked to return to his duties after providing his explanation.
“Do you want to have her arrested for obstructing our crime scene,” Spyker asked.
Haran did not reply. Lee gave a nervous-sounding laugh.
“She can laugh all she wants,” Spyker said. “But she cannot obstruct our crime scene.”
He then ordered Haran to arrest Lee, an eight-year CTA employee with no criminal history. She stood handcuffed on the platform for the next eight minutes, wondering if her decision to speak out had just cost her job and her future.A local TV crew appeared at the scene and filmed her from behind. She would appear on television later that night in a story about the ѕтɑЬЬɪпɡ, a close-up of her cuffed hands clearly suggesting that she had been accused of the ᴠɪᴏʟᴇпт crime. The video is still available on the internet.
“I was humiliated, degraded, embarrassed,” she told the Tribune. “I couldn’t understand why it happened. But after they handcuffed me, I never thought about backing down because I had already been belittled in front of my co-workers and the public. There was no reason to back down at that point.”
Lee continued to argue her position during her detainment, even as her manager tried to convince police it had all been a misunderstanding. At one point during the video, a black police officer appears in the frame and softly tells Lee to “just apologize” to Haran and Spyker, who are white.
“That made me sad and mad at the same time,” Lee said. “Here he is, an African American man telling me, an African American woman, to shut up and apologize so I can get it over with when he didn’t even know what happened.”
After listening to pleas from Lee’s manager, police released her and did not press charges. However, her name appears in the official report from the scene, accusing her of obstruction of justice and potentially contaminating the crime scene.
“Haran escorted Offender (Lee) from the perimeter of the scene,” the report states. “Offender became irrate (sic) and was momentarily detained.”
The report does not mention Lee’s request to lodge a complaint or that she wasn’t arrested for another seven minutes after Haran removed her from the unmarked crime scene and returned to his job.
Department rules require police supervisors to “initiate a complete and comprehensive” investigation after receiving a complaint. On the video, Spyker raised the specter of arrest within 35 seconds of Lee approaching him with her concerns.
City policy also requires Spyker to report her grievance to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability within one hour of receiving it. A police spokeswoman declined to say whether Spyker forwarded the complaint to the independent agency for review.
Lee submitted her own report to COPA, where the matter is under investigation. She also has filed a federal lawsuit against the two officers and the city of Chicago, alleging false arrest and a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech.
“They’re criminalizing police accountability,” said her attorney, Jordan Marsh, who spent two decades defending police misconduct lawsuits for the city’s Law Department. “They’re making it a crime to complain about the police.”
According to data maintained by the Invisible Institute, neither Spyker nor Haran have had previous complaints against them sustained by outside investigators. It’s difficult to put that number into perspective given the city’s well-documented history of clearing officers accused of wrongdoing.
Spyker has been named in 14 complaints since joining the department in 1997, according to the Invisible Institute. Haran, who became a police officer in 1998, has six complaints and twice as many civilian compliments, the data shows.
Lorenzo Davis, a former supervisor in a past incarnation of the city’s police oversight agency, told the Tribune it’s unlikely Haran would face discipline for removing Lee from the crime scene as he has a responsibility to protect the scene’s integrity.
However, he said the events that followed could be more problematic for the department. Citizens should not be retaliated against for speaking up or voicing a concern, he said.
“Everyone has a right to file a complaint. An arrest should never be conditioned on whether that person drops the complaint or not,” he said. “That destroys trust in the community.”
It’s nearly impossible to gauge how often the public is threatened with arrest after making a complaint because such scenarios would not make it into police reports. Anecdotally, Davis, who is also a former Chicago police commander, said it often happened years ago during domestic violence calls involving CPD employees until the department changed its policies on handling such incidents.
In 2010, Chicago police arrested a local woman who secretly recorded a conversation with the department’s internal affairs after they tried to dissuade her from filing a ѕᴇхᴜɑʟ һɑгɑѕѕᴍᴇпт complaint against a patrol officer. Prosecutors charged her with violating an obscure state eavesdropping law that makes audio recording of police officers without their consent a felony offense.
A Cook County jury took less than an hour to acquit her.
The department’s increased use of body cameras could help determine how often the public may be threatened with arrest after making a complaint, experts said. But such counts still will rely on people like Lee to speak out.
“It took heroic efforts on her part to actually insist upon and make sure a complaint was filed,” Futterman said. “That almost never happens because a person in that situation is, indeed, too vulnerable and rightly fearful of losing their freedom and losing their job if they go through with it.”
Lee did not face any discipline because of the incident and has continued to work as an agency supervisor throughout the pandemic, a CTA spokesman said.
She no longer laughs and jokes with the police officers who stop by her booth each day. She says she limits her interactions to those required by her job and nothing else.
She said she did not participate in any recent protests because she had to work, but she supports the calls to change the police culture across the country. As she followed news reports about the demonstrations and saw the signs on the street, she says she empathized with the fears and frustrations protesters expressed.
“It brought back all those feelings of sadness and anger that I felt in that moment,” she said. “This experience has changed me. I’m not the same.”
Watch the video below: