Officer accused of punching activist at 2020 Columbus statue protest resigns; COPA releases findings

Officer accused of punching activist at 2020 Columbus statue protest resigns; COPA releases findings
·3 min read

A Chicago police officer accused of punching activist Miracle Boyd two years ago at a large protest has resigned, officials said, as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability released its report on the incident Wednesday.

The officer, Nicholas Jovanovich, resigned in April, according to the Chicago Police Department. He resigned about a month after Superintendent David Brown unsuccessfully argued for leniency in the case, suggesting a one-year suspension to the Chicago Police Board.

Jovanovich’s case had been set to move on to the board for a disciplinary trial, where he faced firing, but any plans for that proceeding would be canceled because of Jovanovich’s resignation.

The encounter occurred July 17, 2020, near the Christopher Columbus statue in Grant Park. Boyd was attending a protest when she saw several officers take a person into custody, according to the COPA report.

Boyd started to record what was happening on her phone and two officers approached her and blocked her path. One of those officers, Jovanovich, hit the phone out of her hand, causing it to hit her face and knock out one of her front teeth, officials said.

COPA found that Jovanovich had used “unnecessary and excessive force” when he hit Boyd and stopped her from recording a police encounter without justification, the report said. Jovanovich was also found to have made false or misleading statements in his report on the incident.

COPA also found that Jovanovich’s partner, Officer Andres Valle, failed to report Jovanovich’s excessive force and found that Sgt. Kevin Gleeson made false or misleading statements when approving Jovanovich’s Tactical Response Report.

In an interview with COPA, Jovanovich said that he was working the protest at Buckingham Fountain and several supervisors told him to stay out of view of the public and give people their space. However, when protesters started to move south, the officers issued two dispersal orders that the protesters did not comply with, according to the report.

Jovanovich was then instructed by supervisors to surround the Columbus statue with their bikes, but they did not have enough manpower to create a full barrier, the report said. Protesters then began throwing rocks, bricks, frozen water bottles and large fireworks at the officers. Jovanovich told COPA it was “the most traumatic and chaotic situation I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life and especially my career.”

After retreating from the statue, Jovanovich went to Columbus Drive when he heard Boyd’s voice and saw her about 30 feet away, the report said. He said she was yelling profanities and flailing her arms, and she had a black rectangular object in her hand.

Jovanovich then saw Boyd go toward someone who was being arrested, feared the officers did not see her approaching from behind and that she would hit the officers with the object in her hand, the report said. He said he made a “swiping” motion at the object and denied any physical contact with Boyd.

He said he did not give her any verbal instructions or use any de-escalation tactics, but he believed his force was reasonable and necessary, the report said.

Jovanovich said he was aware of the department’s policy that prohibits use of force in response to someone exercising their First Amendment rights but said he was not aware that she was recording or what the object was, the report said.

However, video evidence showed that Jovanovich yelled, “Get that (expletive) phone out of here” immediately after he hit her, according to the report.

After the July 17, 2020, protest, Boyd said at a news conference that an officer knocked out at least one of her teeth during the skirmish in Grant Park.

“There is no way I should have left a protest bruised and battered for exercising my freedom of speech and freedom to assemble,” Boyd said.

pfry@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @paigexfry