Chicago police investigating officers’ role in party after bar is cited for COVID-19 violations

Jeremy Gorner and Annie Sweeney, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

A Southwest Side bar has been cited for COVID-19 safety violations after more than 40 people, a maskless group that apparently included Chicago police officers, gathered last month in the bar’s back room, according to city records.

When asked about the gathering, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department said in an emailed statement that an internal investigation had been opened.

News of the gathering comes after the department has faced criticism around a lack of precautions taken by some Chicago police officers during the pandemic. That includes a rare rebuke from a federal judge who in a recent court order pointed to photographs and videos that showed Chicago police on the job without masks, putting them out of compliance with health guidelines and directives.

The investigation into the Jan. 7 gathering at Guide’s Sports Club, 5544 S. Archer Ave., also includes an anonymous allegation that it was held in honor of James R. Sanchez, who retired in October as commander of gang investigations and was recently rehired to work as a civilian as deputy director of gang investigations.

Sanchez, when reached by the Tribune, declined to comment.

CPD’s emailed statement did not give a time frame for the internal investigation.

“CPD members are expected to conduct themselves professionally both on and off-duty,” the statement said. “Department members who are found to have violated the City’s COVID-19 orders, which are in place to protect the health of our residents during this devastating pandemic, will be held accountable.”

According to documents supplied to the Tribune after a Freedom of Information Act request, an email about the gathering was sent at 7:35 p.m. Jan. 7 to Superintendent David Brown and First Deputy Superintendent Eric Carter.

The subject line reads: “Deputy Sanchez is having a party in a bar.”

The email’s sender is redacted from the records return, but the email notes the sender was using an anonymous email account for “fear of retribution.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also was notified of the potential violation, according to the email string, which shows the mayor forwarding the tip to Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno 10 minutes later.

“Rosa, call me about this email,” it read. The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the matter.

A business compliance investigator arrived at the bar about two hours later to find the front doors locked, records show. After gaining entrance through another door, the investigator found seven people gathered in the main bar and a locked door that was marked “banquet hall entrance.”

As the investigator documented the front of the bar, a manager continued to walk in and out of the kitchen, the report states.

When the investigator asked for access to the kitchen, the manager refused, saying only employees were allowed. The investigator then asked to see the bar’s business licenses, and as the manager opened a case holding the documents, the investigator walked back to the kitchen and found another door and put his ear close.

“Be quiet the inspector is still here,” someone whispered loudly on the other side, according to the report.

The investigator then knocked on the door and said, “He is gone, open the door.”

“Someone opened the door and several photos were taken of forty three customers standing side by side without face masks and not practicing social distancing in the banquet room,” the report reads. “A table was set up with pizza and pasta, buffet style with plates and napkins next to it.”

The investigator then questioned staff, including the the manager, who mentioned “the party was for a police officer and most of the guests were police officers,” the report states.

“The manager asked if he could have some of the police officers come and talk to help the situation,” according to the report.

The investigator responded, “It does not matter who is in that room, they are breaking a City of Chicago ordinance and I have to issue citations for this… period.”

The city closed the bar that night, citing the COVID-19 violations on capacity limits and for failing to maintain social distancing or require patrons to wear masks. The bar was also served with administrative violations for the coronavirus-related infractions, as well as violations for the obstruction and disruption of the investigation by the manager.

The investigator’s report also notes that a bartender was cited for violations as well.

According to Illinois Secretary of State records, the bar is owned by Frank J. Guide.

The bar, which has been a neighborhood gathering spot for more than 40 years, has reopened after reaching a safety plan with the city that includes several conditions, including increased sanitation requirements, capacity limits and use of face coverings, an attorney for Guide said and city records show.

The citations are still pending against the bar, the attorney added.