Anjanette Young meeting with Mayor Lori Lightfoot called off in dispute over public forum

Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune

A proposed meeting between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and social worker Anjanette Young has been called off after the two sides couldn’t agree on a public forum, according to emails exchanged between the city’s top lawyer and Young’s attorney.

Lightfoot first requested a meeting with Young via a Dec. 17 email sent to Young’s attorney, Keenan Saulter, just before a news conference in which the mayor was apologetic for a mistaken 2019 police raid on the social worker’s home and the city’s subsequent attempts to keep video footage from the incident out of public view.

In a response sent to Lightfoot and several aldermen on Dec. 26, Young agreed to meet privately with the mayor and requested it happen at her church later this week. Saulter also requested a public forum afterward with police Superintendent David Brown and several aldermen. He later amended the invitation to include all aldermen.

But Saulter and Lightfoot weren’t able to reach an agreement on the public forum, he said in a letter to the mayor and nearly the entire City Council.

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In the email, Saulter said he spoke with acting corporation counsel Celia Meza, who said the mayor offered to “meet with Ms. Young privately and then speak to the press at 12:00 p.m. while the rest of us (me, Ms. Young and any Alderman who had the respect enough for Ms. Young to stay for the public forum) were inside addressing the issues and doing the hard work of moving towards Transparency and Accountability for this incident and many others.”

Saulter said that if Lightfoot wanted to apologize to Young, “she could have done that last fall when CBS2 made her first aware of the horrific raid and treatment that Ms. Young had suffered.”

Instead, Saulter said, Lightfoot “waited over a year for that” and “her apologies without action ring hollow and fall of deaf ears.”

Meza responded to Saulter’s email and said Lightfoot accepted the invitation for a private meeting at the church but “would not be participating in the public gathering you have arranged at noon.”

He answered: “There was one invitation. Not two. The Mayor decided that she was going to reject the invitation that Ms. Young gave. That’s fine. Let’s not parse words or play games.”

Lightfoot’s press office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Although negotiations appeared to have fallen apart with the exchange between Saulter and Meza, they could resume.

Earlier Monday, Lightfoot expressed public health concerns about gathering 50 aldermen in a church amid COVID-19 restrictions but said she’s “anxious to meet directly with Ms. Young, and I’m hoping that the details can be worked out so that will happen.”

The mistaken raid on Young’s home has become a major crisis for Lightfoot, who initially said she had only learned of it after WBBM-Ch. 2 aired police body camera footage that showed Young, who was naked and handcuffed, repeatedly telling officers who barged into her home that they had the wrong place.

But Lightfoot has since acknowledged that members of her team told her about the raid via emails in November 2019, as CBS was reporting on search warrants being served at the wrong addresses. Lightfoot said her administration would release those emails, though the mayor’s office has not yet done so.

In response to the controversy, several aldermen have requested an investigation by city Inspector General Joe Ferguson. Lightfoot said she is supportive of such an effort but also asked former federal Judge Ann Claire Williams to review the case and its handling. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is also looking into the Police Department’s handling of the raid, but Lightfoot has been critical of the agency for being too slow in completing its investigation.

A city spokesman previously said 12 Chicago police officers involved in the botched raid of Young’s home have been placed on desk duty.

The Law Department’s top attorney, Mark Flessner, resigned over the scandal, and two high-ranking staffers also left.

City lawyers previously filed a request to have Young sanctioned for allegedly violating a confidentiality order on the video, though the city later said it only wanted her lawyer sanctioned. The city eventually filed paperwork seeking to drop the matter altogether, though a judge said he is still weighing whether to take action against the lawyer.

A federal judge rejected the Lightfoot administration’s unusual request to prevent the television station from airing a news report. The courts long have ruled against efforts to prevent news companies from publishing reports, saying it’s an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.

Lightfoot has repeatedly criticized the Law Department for taking the action and denied knowing about it beforehand.

Lightfoot initially denied that her administration withheld footage of the raid from Young but later acknowledged her administration had denied an open records request submitted by Young for the footage and said that shouldn’t happen.

The Young case has also highlighted a recurring problem for the Law Department after Lightfoot’s office disclosed that it failed to give Young’s attorney all of the body camera footage of the wrongful police raid.

A 2016 Chicago Tribune investigation found that, of nearly 450 cases alleging police misconduct since former Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office, a federal judge had to order the city to turn over potential evidence in nearly 1 in every 5 cases.

In numerous cases, the city’s conduct was found to be so inappropriate that a federal judge took the unusual step of handing down sanctions.

Emanuel’s administration famously fought to keep secret a video showing white police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, but a county judge ordered his administration to release the video. Emanuel has since been dogged by accusations that he covered up the scandal to preserve his 2015 reelection campaign, an allegation he’s denied.

Chicago has since instituted a rule allowing the release of police shooting videos and audio within 60 days. Lightfoot said she will pursue changes to make other video releases easier.

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