Facing allegations that officers under him were baby-sitting his special-needs son, the Chicago police commander gave a novel explanation: He was conducting a secret study.
Grand Central District Cmdr. Anthony Escamilla acknowledged he had on-duty officers pick up his teenage son, who has autism, but insisted he worked as a volunteer in the community policing office.
Pressed by investigators from the city’s inspector general’s office, Escamilla said he wanted to watch how his son did the work and interacted with his officers, taking mental notes he planned to share with the officers later.
“I kind of wanted to just leave it to them, acting out in their job roles, and then him being a volunteer and seeing how it would go,” Escamilla told an investigator. “It’s not about my son and someone keeping an eye on him. This is about kids with his kind of disability and what we can do as a department to help them.”
Neither Escamilla’s officers nor the inspector general’s office saw it that way.
The officers complained that they were just watching over the boy for their boss. “I mean, baby-sitting, let’s just put it out, I don’t know how to say it,” one officer told the investigators. “I never thought about taking care of a kid from another officer on my job hours.”
The inspector general’s office dismissed the commander’s explanation as disingenuous and implausible. It recommended possible dismissal, but police Superintendent Eddie Johnson decided on a seven-day suspension.
The recommendation was included in a summary of its findings released last month. The Tribune has since obtained a copy of the full, confidential report that includes excerpts of its interviews with the commander and his officers.
In one of the interviews, a community policing sergeant who watched over Escamilla’s son — and directed rank-and-file officers to do the same — told the inspector general’s office last year he was concerned that the commander’s actions would overshadow the good police work in the district.
“The commander is a good man. Our crime stats were looking really good, but … I’m worried this is going to be a blemish on what we’re doing,” the sergeant said, according to the 38-page report. “The good, honest people in my office are probably mad at me now and, you know, they’re probably going to quit.”
A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office declined to comment for this story.
A complaint about the arrangement surfaced in March 2018 on an online service that allows Chicago police officers to file anonymous complaints. By June, investigators had conducted surveillance nine times outside the school where Escamilla’s son attended, about 3 miles from the station and in a different police district. During most of those stakeouts, investigators saw officers picking up the teen.
Escamilla told the inspector general’s office that he started having his son come to the station in 2017 after bringing him to National Night Out, an event hosted every summer by police departments nationwide to celebrate partnerships with communities.
The commander said he “saw some changes once (his son) started interacting with positive role models such as police officers,” according to the report. “He was really interested in what they did, how they did it, what the rules were, what a good guy was versus a bad guy,” Escamilla told the office. “So at that point I decided that I wanted to bring him in on a voluntary basis to help out and volunteer in the (community policing) office on Wednesdays because they have a lot of duties that he can do such as, you know, stuffing envelopes for meetings, setting up.”
Escamilla said he told the community policing sergeant that his son would be coming into the station on a regular basis, and asked the sergeant to bring him there if he couldn’t. He contended no one in the district came to him concerned about his son being at the station.
“My understanding was that it was a good collaboration and nobody ever came to me and said differently,” Escamilla told an investigator. He said the weekly task “was more of an ask than an order.”
He also told the inspector general’s office that he didn’t disclose this to any of his bosses because he wanted to “test” whether the arrangement truly worked. Asked by an investigator what data he collected, Escamilla replied, “(To) be honest with you, a lot of it is mental note-taking.”
Escamilla acknowledged he would want his officers to notify supervisors if they were picking up their child from school in a squad car for personal reasons on a regular basis.
“Yeah, I would say that I would — if I found out about that, I would obviously need to know more,” he said. “And if it wound up being for transportation purposes, that’s not a police function, then we would have to investigate that further.”
But in his case, Escamilla said, it was appropriate to have on-duty officers drive his son in a squad car.
“I don’t think it’s about my son,” he told an investigator. “It’s about a volunteer being part of a program and I would do that for any other volunteer. It’s not specifically about a situation where someone needs to take care of my family. I can take care of my family.”
In interviews with investigators, the sergeant and other officers indicated they felt they were under orders from Escamilla to watch his son. The sergeant told an investigator he felt uncomfortable telling Escamilla that watching his son was a waste of police resources because Escamilla outranked him.
One officer who worked in the community policing office told an investigator that watching Escamilla’s son made him and other officers less productive and created more stress for them.
Another community policing officer said watching Escamilla’s son caused her to interrupt a phone call with a domestic violence victim.
“I have to do my job and then I have to supervise him,” she said. “I cannot do my job and supervise him at the same time.”
The officer said she feared getting reassigned to less desirable shifts if she complained. “Not that they will literally tell me you’re going back to midnights,” she said, “but I didn’t want to take that risk.”
Escamilla could not be reached for comment. But after the inspector general released its findings last month, he showed no remorse in an interview with a Tribune reporter.
“Apology?” Escamilla said when asked if he wanted to apologize to the officers. “I don’t know if we’re saying those allegations are true or not. I mean … that would be where there would be an apology.”