Kevin Graham, the former president of the Chicago Police Department’s largest union, was suspended from the organization for 3 years on Wednesday for leaving behind a tiny camera that continued to record in his old office while it was occupied by his successor, and not telling him about it, officials said.
Graham, however, has denied any wrongdoing and plans to appeal the decision.
In an interview with the Tribune Wednesday evening, Graham indicated the decision by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police was flawed since it was handed down by union officials aligned with John Catanzara, the current FOP president, who won Graham’s spot earlier this year by defeating him in an election.
Graham said the camera was installed during his time as president because of suspicions that someone with access to his office had stolen from there a sensitive document or other items. A source familiar with the matter said the camera was later discovered by someone during work at the union facility, 1412 W. Washington Blvd., after Catanzara took over as FOP president.
“It was clear I didn’t do anything wrong,” Graham said in a telephone interview. “Never once did I have any control over the camera or its content.”
Graham denied that he was trying to spy on Catanzara and that he just forgot to tell him about the camera. Graham also said if it wasn’t for the camera issue, Catanzara’s team would’ve likely tried to accuse him of another infraction.
Graham said the union tried to expel him outright from the organization but instead settled on the 3-year suspension. This means that as a Chicago police officer, Graham will not have union protections — which includes free legal representation from the FOP in the event he’s accused of police misconduct — during that period.
Graham served for 3 years as FOP president from April 2017 until this past May, when he was defeated by Catanzara in a runoff election for the top spot. Catanzara received close to 55% of the vote, garnering 4,709 votes to Graham’s 3,872. But after that and up until now, he continued to serve with the FOP in the position of “Immediate Past President.”
Catanzara, known for his outspoken public criticism of anyone opposing him, including Graham and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, did not want to comment directly about Graham’s suspension, but said he’s glad the whole saga over the camera is done.
“Some people just don’t take losing very well because they’re losing grip on control that they’ve had over this lodge for a long time,” said Catanzara. “There’s new sheriffs in town and we’re running this lodge more black and white than ever before.”
The camera drama was one of the latest high-profile displays of infighting within the FOP.
When Graham was its president in 2018, one of his closest deputies, Martin Preib, tried to get a former FOP president kicked out of the union, alleging he misrepresented himself as the group’s spokesman in public comments related to Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial for the 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
But the FOP cleared the former president, Dean Angelo, after finding no evidence of wrongdoing.
In 2014, the FOP voted to remove from office its then-president, Michael Shields, for publicly questioning the fairness of past contract union negotiations with the city.
But Shields then filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the FOP claiming he was wrongly barred from union activities after being removed from office. He eventually reached a $100,000 settlement in the same lawsuit against the Illinois FOP lodge and months later was awarded $21,600 in the case from a Cook County jury.
The FOP, which represents more than 8,000 active rank-and-file Chicago cops, has gone through tense contract negotiations with the city ever since its last collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of June 2017.
Last month, Catanzara and Lightfoot exchanged a heated war of words with one another in the media over contractual issues. The FOP in September rejected the city’s proposal of a 10% raise over a four-year period along with changes to how the city handles disciplinary issues involving allegations of misconduct.
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