Opening statements delivered, testimony begins in CPD whistleblower case


CHICAGO — Opening statements were delivered and witness testimony commenced Tuesday in the whistleblower case of Chicago Police Sgt. Isaac Lambert, the CPD supervisor who alleges that he faced retaliation after he refused to endorse criminal charges against a disabled teen who was shot by an off-duty CPD sergeant in 2017.

Lambert’s attorneys told jurors that Lambert was “dumped” to the CPD’s Patrol Division after he spoke out against bringing a felony charge against Ricardo “Ricky” Hayes in August 2017 after Hayes — who has autism — was shot by Sgt. Khalil Muhammad on the Far South Side.

“Sgt. Lambert came to his role as a whistleblower with great reluctance,” one of Lambert’s attorneys, Tom Needham, told jurors in his opening statement. “Ike Lambert loved his job. Ike Lambert was passionate about his job and he was humiliated when he was dumped.”

“This police code of silence is not a theory I’m telling you about. It’s a fact,” added Needham, who previously served as general counsel to the CPD and chief of staff to former Supt. Terry Hillard.

Attorneys representing the city, meanwhile, said Lambert was reassigned from the Detective Division to Patrol Division — more than a year after the shooting in question occurred — because he was an ineffective supervisor. Moreover, Lambert was given the option to go the CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs instead of Patrol, but he refused.

“There was no cover-up here,” Michelle Rakestraw, one of the city’s attorneys, told jurors in her opening statement. “This case is about a sergeant who focused his efforts and energies on others while refusing to accept responsibility for his own failures as a sergeant.”

Lambert was called to the witness stand around 3 p.m. and his testimony will continue Wednesday when the trial resumes.

“Truly, the best time of my life on the job was in the detective division,” Lambert said Tuesday.

Lambert filed his lawsuit against the city in 2019, about two years after the shooting occurred. The following year, a second lawsuit was filed against the city by another CPD supervisor in connection with Muhammad’s shooting of Hayes. That lawsuit is still pending.

On Aug. 13, 2017, Hayes, who was then 18, was reported missing by his caretaker. A few hours later, around 5 a.m., Muhammad was driving near his home in the Morgan Park neighborhood when he saw Hayes running down the sidewalk in the 10900 block of South Hermosa before stopping in front of a house.

Muhammad stopped his SUV in the street, about 20 feet away from where Hayes was standing. Hayes took a couple of steps toward Muhammad’s vehicle before the sergeant fired two shots, striking Hayes twice. Hayes then ran off and Muhammad took him into custody soon after.

A year after the shooting, a lawsuit was filed against Muhammad and the city on Hayes’ behalf. That suit was later settled for more than $2 million. Meanwhile, the Chicago Police Board moved to suspend Muhammad from work for six months.

Rakestraw stressed to jurors that they are not to focus on Muhammad’s shooting of Hayes.

“The actions of Khalil Muhammad are not why we are here today,” Rakestraw said. “You are not here to compensate Mr. Hayes for any injuries he suffered. You are also not here today to determine guilt or innocence of Khalil Muhammad or his conduct.”

Also testifying Tuesday were Regina Holloway, a former supervising investigator with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and CPD Detective Sonia French, who Lambert assigned to investigate the shooting shortly after it occurred. A video recording of French’s testimony, given several months ago during a sworn deposition, was projected for jurors on the south wall of Donnelly’s 19th floor courtroom.

French said she didn’t believe the shooting was justified, echoing Lambert, who supported her assertion. Several other police officials, French said, supported charging Hayes with aggravated assault to a police officer — a felony. However, French was not able to remember the names of any CPD officials who wanted Hayes charged.

“I did not believe that Ricardo Hayes was an offender,” French told Lambert’s attorney Torreya Hamilton.

“Did you believe that he was the victim of an unjustified shooting?” Hamilton asked.

“Yes,” French replied.

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