Chicago police officers' racist social media posts detailed in new COPA report

When then-Ald. John Arena announced plans in 2017 to bring an affordable housing development to Jefferson Park, the proposal drew stiff resistance from some who said they feared the new housing might drive up crime in a Northwest Side neighborhood that’s home to many city workers.

Amid heated community debate, staffers in Arena’s 45th Ward office noticed "racially charged" comments about the proposal on Facebook — many of them made by Chicago cops.

Arena’s office provided screenshots of offensive posts to City Hall’s inspector general’s office, citing 31 sworn officers who had joined in the contentious dispute, and the inspector general’s staff flagged 10 more.

It took nearly five years for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the city’s police oversight agency, to complete its investigation into the officers’ social media posts. That resulted in the agency recommending last August that five members of the Chicago Police Department be given lengthy suspensions for making incendiary, in some cases racist comments about the development and on other divisive issues.

Now, a new report from COPA details the posts the officers made and the agency’s conclusions. Among the cops’ posts:

  • Sgt. Keith Olson described Chicago teenagers as "little animal f—-" but expressed encouragement that "the ghetto building" hadn’t gotten approval yet.
  • Officer Dallas Englehart responded to a post endorsing then-President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and proposed shooting down what he called "undocumented Planes" with anti-aircraft blasts.
  • Sgt. Anargyros Kereakes equated the Black Lives Matter movement, the NFL and Black entertainers to the Ku Klux Klan and asked, "do Black Lives really Matter to black people?"
  • Officer Angel Avalos Jr. used the social media platform to write "Work will set you free!" — a variation of a phrase that appeared on the gates to the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp.
  • Officer Scott Kniaz predicted, when a police officer was reported to have been injured after video was released showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago cop: "It will not be long until the war starts."

No one disciplined yet

COPA recommended suspending Englehart, Kereakes and Olson for at least 120 days. Avalos faced a minimum suspension of 60 days. Kniaz was deemed to deserve a 30-day punishment.

None of that has happened.

Kereakes, Avalos and Englehart had "already resigned their position with the Chicago Police Department" by the time the department responded to the recommendations, according to a letter Lt. Robert Flores wrote to COPA.

Flores wrote that the recommended suspensions for Olson and Kniaz would be implemented, but a police spokesperson now says the officers are fighting the suspensions through the department’s disciplinary grievance process.

Asked about the COPA report and what they are doing to monitor cops on social media and respond to racist posts, police officials cite a policy banning officers from posting disparaging remarks.

In the time it took COPA to complete the Jefferson Park investigation, the mixed-income development — across from the Jefferson Park district police station at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. — has been built and has opened.

The 75-unit complex caters to veterans, people with disabilities and older residents who began moving in last spring.

Arena lost his re-election bid in 2019. A member of his staff filed the complaint in February 2018.

In a Facebook post at the time, Arena wrote that "several members of the Chicago Police Department" had participated in the debate over the proposed development in ways "that many members of our community found offensive and dehumanizing."

"At a time when police leadership is working to restore the public’s trust in CPD, inappropriate comments by members of the force undermine that necessary work," Arena wrote.

‘CPD is far from the problem’

The COPA investigation concluded that the five officers were found to have violated rules against discrediting the department, disobeying an order or directive, disrespecting others and using defamatory or abusive language.

Englehart had nine of the sustained accusations — the most of any of the officers.

In November 2016, Englehart responded to a post saying it was "TIME TO BUILD THAT WALL," a reference to the campaign promise Trump failed to keep. His suggestion to use anti-aircraft guns to shoot down "undocumented Planes" appeared to be alluding to airplanes carrying asylum-seekers to the United States.

COPA said his comments showed "a violent animosity toward the undocumented community."

In other posts, Englehart was found to have likened recipients of public aid to looters, pointed to false statistics about the extent of slavery and shared an article that included Confederate imagery and a white supremacist slogan.

Englehart retired from the police department in November 2020. He took a refund of the $43,963 he had contributed toward his retirement and is not receiving a city pension.

Kereakes used his real name on Facebook and regularly identified himself as a police officer while discussing issues including the development in Jefferson Park and shootings involving police officers.

His profile included a photograph of himself in uniform. But Kereakes told investigators he thought his Facebook account was set to private when he went on a tirade against the BLM movement in February 2016.

"[D]o Black Lives really Matter to black people? Let’s be honest here. West and south side black on black crime cannot be blamed on the white man," Kereakes wrote in the exchange, tying the KKK to the BLM movement, the NFL and the entertainment power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Kereakes said he was trying to have a private discussion with Black law enforcement officials and that he wasn’t being insensitive.

But COPA found that the comments raised questions about whether he could "apply the law fairly and equitably."

Kereakes also disparaged Cuban immigrants, put down victims of police shootings and jokingly recommended that police officers should "rob some mother f—— like the gangsters we were."

After retiring from the police department in April 2021, Kereakes is getting a city pension of $6,651 a month.

Kereakes now says COPA took his social media posts out of context.

"At no time did I make any type of racist comments," he says.

Kereakes also says he left the department because the mayor and police leaders "completely abandoned our citizens" during the 2020 riots in Chicago following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Avalos faced six sustained accusations over posts he made using an alias on a public Facebook account, including a "Work will set you free" post.

Avalos said that was a reference to "a Spanish phrase his grandfather taught him about working hard to leave poverty" and denied any affiliation with Nazism, though the phrase is a translation of the inscription at the Auschwitz World War II concentration camp.

COPA ruled that Avalos’ intention was irrelevant.

"Regardless of whether he was aware that his comment was associated with a Nazi Concentration Camp, it could reasonably be perceived as such, especially in light of his other derogatory and discriminatory comments," COPA officials wrote.

Avalos also made biased posts questioning whether Muslims were peaceful, along with comments that COPA said "were insensitive to victims of police violence and undermine the public’s trust in law enforcement."

Avalos quit the department last September and is getting no city pension.

Olson, who spelled his last name backwards on his Facebook account, had a single sustained charge stemming from the post that directly referred to the Jefferson Park development.

"CPD is far from the problem," he wrote in 2017, "these little animal f—- have no respect for anything. At least the ghetto building on [Northwest Highway] is stalled."

He told investigators he was "commenting on the bad behavior of local teenagers."

But COPA ruled that Olson’s comments "were indicative of animus towards members of a particular community and against people from low-income situations."

Olson remains on active duty, working in the Area 5 detective division. He makes a $133,860 yearly salary.

Kniaz made a series of comments that resulted in two sustained accusations after video of the police killing of McDonald was released in 2015.

On Nov. 25, 2015, Kniaz railed against a demonstrator who was said to have punched an officer during a protest and criticized members of the Chicago City Council’s Black Caucus for standing against the arrest.

"It will not be long now until the war starts," he wrote on Facebook.

Four days later, he predicted Chicago would "burn" if Officer Jason Van Dyke were acquitted of murder in a trial before a white judge.

Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is white, ultimately presided over the jury trial and sentenced Van Dyke to six years in prison for second-degree murder.

"The post was disparaging to both the potential judge and local communities based on race," COPA wrote.

Kniaz remains on duty in the Grand Central district, making a $114,282 annual salary.

Englehart, Avalos and Kniaz didn’t respond to requests for comment. Olson couldn’t be reached.

The COPA probe cleared other officers who had been the subject of complaints about their social media activity, including John Garrido, who was a lieutenant and longtime political rival of Arena. Garrido, who retired last year, took issue online with someone who had taken offense regarding Avalos’ "Work will set you free" comment, according to the COPA report.

Asked why he wouldn’t condemn the post, Garrido replied that the critic was "a special kind of stupid" and scoffed at the notion that the post violated police policy, according to COPA.

"Make a complaint if you want to make a complaint," he wrote.

Asked about the COPA findings, Arena said Friday: "The report speaks for itself. Despite challenges, the building ultimately got built, and low-income, veteran and disabled families are benefiting from that effort."