Karl Clermont
Karl Clermont Credit: Jim Newberry

Karl Clermont is certain an off-duty police officer pulled a gun on him. What he doesn’t understand is why it’s taking so long for investigators to determine if the officer should face disciplinary action. “This happened over seven months ago,” he says. Clermont is a 33-year-old cabbie who grew up on the north side, graduated from Sullivan High School, and now lives in the suburbs with his wife and five-year-old son. He’s been driving a cab for five years.

Last spring—around 1:30 AM on Thursday, April 23, to be precise—he picked up a guy in his 20s or 30s outside the Crescendo nightclub at Ontario and Franklin.

“I knew he was intoxicated right away,” says Clermont. “As soon as he told me where he wanted to go, he passed out.”

When Clermont arrived at the destination, the intersection of Armitage and Damen, he woke up his passenger. “He got out of the cab and walked away,” says Clermont. “I think maybe it’s an honest mistake. I’ve had that happen. The fare will say, ‘Oh, I’m so drunk, I didn’t know what I was doing.'”

He says he called out to the guy. “I said, ‘Hey, you forgot to pay your fare.’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t forget. I don’t owe you shit.'”

Clermont persisted. “I said, ‘You owe me eight dollars and 45 cents.’ He repeated: ‘I don’t owe you shit.’ I said, ‘Sir, if you don’t pay me, I’ll have to call the police and you’ll have to go to jail.’ That’s when he got really pissed. He reached into his right-hand pocket and he pulled out a black gun and he said, ‘You choose. Either I don’t owe you shit, or you get out of the car and see what happens.’

“I said, ‘Just forget it—you go your way, I go mine.’ He said, ‘That’s what I thought.'”

Then the fare staggered east to Winchester and fell to the ground. “I couldn’t believe it,” Clermont says. “The guy just collapsed.”

Clermont called 911 and says within a few minutes six police cars showed up—four marked, two unmarked. “By the time the police got there the guy had managed to get up. I hopped into a marked car—the first car to show up—and we drove down the alley looking for him.”

They found the passenger in an alley south of Armitage. “The other cars showed up and all the police get out and they draw their weapons,” says Clermont. “They told him, ‘Put your hands on your head, lock your fingers.'”

The police put the guy in handcuffs. “I said, ‘He’s got the gun in his right pocket,'” says Clermont. “They disarmed him. They get on their walkie-talkie and said, ‘We have the weapon.'”

Up to that point, Clermont felt the police were on his side—concerned for his safety and eager to protect a cabbie in distress. But in the next instant, everything changed.

“This one policeman went into the guy’s pocket and pulled out his wallet, looked at his wallet. I see the amazement on his face. He was shocked, like he was almost ready to cry. He passed the wallet to the other cops. I wonder, ‘Who is this guy, Mayor Daley’s right-hand man? Is he somebody political, somebody famous? What’s going on?'”

The officer who’d driven Clermont to the alley stepped away from the other cops and approached the cabdriver. “He said, ‘I’m not going to bullshit you—this guy is an off-duty police officer. Do you want us to have him pay you or do you want me to write a report?’ I said, ‘I’ll make a report.’ He said they’d have to call a sergeant.”

About ten minutes later, a sergeant drove up. “He said, ‘Can I see some ID?'” says Clermont. “I gave him my license. He went into the alley and talked to the other cops. He came back and asked me about the gun. I told him it was black. He says, ‘The guy says he didn’t point the gun at you.'”

“I said, ‘How could I know he had a black gun if he didn’t point it at me?’ The sergeant just looks like, ‘I wish I didn’t come to work today.'”

Clermont says he was told he’d have to go to the 14th District police station, at 2150 N. California, if he wanted to file a report. He made his way there, and after he’d been waiting about half an hour, a second sergeant—a woman with red hair—showed up to question him, Clermont says.

According to Clermont, she asked to see his driver’s license and his chauffeur’s license. She asked to look at the tread on his cab’s tires and asked whether he operated any other businesses out of his cab.

“I felt like I’d become the subject of the investigation,” says Clermont. “I said, ‘Why are you checking my credentials? I’m not the one accused of a crime here.’ She said, ‘Your taxi is a rolling business and whenever something happens in a business we have to check the license.’ She said the reason they sent her instead of the other sergeant is because she’s more taxi literate. I think they were trying to see if they could find one thing wrong with me they could use to intimidate me out of making the report.”

Clermont says he asked the sergeant for a copy of what she’d written up. She handed him a scrap of paper with a number written on it and told him someone would call him. Later that day he went ahead and filed a complaint online with the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct, and the next day someone from the authority called and asked him to come to their office at 10 W. 35th to file a sworn complaint.

He went in the following day. “I asked the investigator who was taking my complaint if she had heard the 911 tapes where I had phoned in my complaint about the fare with the gun and she said yes, she had,” Clermont says.

A few days later, he also called George Lutfallah, who publishes the Chicago Dispatcher, a monthly newspaper for cabdrivers. Lutfallah wrote an article about Clermont’s run-in for his May issue. Fox Chicago followed up with a televised report.

Despite the news coverage immediately after the event, there has been very little response so far from police. “I kept calling them and they kept telling me, ‘We’re investigating,'” says Clermont.

In July, an investigator for IPRA asked him to come in and look at a photo lineup. “He asked me to point out anyone I recognized,” says Clermont. He’d been kicking himself for not getting the names of any of the investigating officers, but, he says, “I positively identified the officer who had escorted me into the alley and the female sergeant.” He says he still doesn’t know their names.

On October 28, Clermont received a letter from Ilana Rosenzweig, chief administrator for the IPRA, telling him: “IPRA is investigating the allegation of excessive force you made against a Chicago Police Department employee. The investigation has been on-going for the past six months. It still continues.”

In the last week of November, Clermont was summoned back to the IPRA offices to review another row of head shots, but the officer who pulled the gun wasn’t among them.

Lutfallah doesn’t understand why the investigation wasn’t completed faster. “We’re not talking Sherlock Holmes,” says Lutfallah. “If Karl’s not telling the truth, that shouldn’t be hard to figure out. There are the 911 tapes. There’s the report number that the woman sergeant gave him. It either happened the way he said it did or it didn’t.”

Investigators moved much more quickly in another case that involved an allegation of officer misconduct. On September 13 CTA bus driver Ricardo Mendoza filed a federal lawsuit accusing an off-duty cop of hitting him. Investigations into the incident by the Cook County State’s Attorney and IPRA were concluded in six weeks. (The investigators reached a surprising conclusion in that one: on November 7, the state’s attorney’s office charged Mendoza with making a false report and obstructing justice. Mendoza’s attorney, Craig Sandberg, said the charges are retaliation for his client’s lawsuit. Mendoza has stuck with his story.)

“But in this case it seems like the investigation’s never going to end,” says Clermont.

When I asked the police department about Clermont, a spokesman referred me to Rosenzweig. She says the case remains under investigation. “It’s really difficult to predict when it will be over,” she says.

Her agency appears to be struggling to process all the complaints it gets. In the first nine months of this year, according to IPRA’s most recent quarterly report, the agency received 7,839 allegations of misconduct and notifications of incidents, such as police firing their weapons, that it’s required to look into. The agency opened investigations into 2,223 of those allegations and notifications. But it’s only been able to close 1,924 investigations. It now has 1,981 open cases.

“There’s no standard timeline on these investigations,” says Rosenzweig. “In this case, the state’s attorney has a parallel investigation. So it could take longer.”

When did the office of Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez get involved? No one’s saying. Alvarez spokesman Andy Conklin confirmed that the Clermont case is under investigation but refused to say when or why his office opened the inquiry.

Clermont says he’s not just frustrated—he’s concerned for the public. “I’m not a cop hater,” he says. “I appreciate officers who are doing their jobs. I always have had respect for the police. But this guy pulled a gun on me. And as far as I know, he’s still out there.   

Find this column and more on local politics at chicagoreader.com/politics. Ben Joravsky discusses his column weekly with Dave Glowacz at mrradio.org/theworks.