Thursday, March 09, 2017

Cops Seeking Theft Suspect Are Told "Get A Warrant" By Center On Halsted Staff

Tipped off that a theft suspect had fled into the Center on Halsted on Monday evening, two Chicago police officers entered the sprawling LGBTQ community center at 3656 North Halsted to investigate.

Inside, they were met by two people who identified themselves as Center on Halsted staff. The staff had a message for the cops: “Get a warrant.”

That’s according a Chicago Police Department case report that CWB Chicago acquired via a Freedom Of Information Act request.

The alleged incident raises more questions about the Center on Halsted’s relationships with police and neighbors. It also indicates that Center staff members tried to thwart legitimate police efforts with the same tactics that were once used by the Broadway Youth Center—until that agency’s conduct was laid out in a series of 2013 reports by our team.

“Their Sanctuary”

Shortly after 4 o’clock on Monday, a man dressed as a woman entered the 7-Eleven store at 3700 North Broadway and stole a stack of merchandise. A store employee watched as he walked a half block west and entered the Center on Halsted lobby.

The 7-Eleven at 3700 N. Broadway is within eyesight of the Center on Halsted entrance | Google
It’s “typical,” according to a former store employee who says the location is frequently targeted by individuals who steal and then return to the Center.

Two police officers entered the Center on Monday to look for the latest theft suspect—a 6-foot tall black man in his 20’s who was wearing a long auburn-colored wig.

They saw no one matching that description in the Center’s lobby, so the officers made their way up the stairs to the second floor.

That’s where they were met by a man and a woman who identified themselves as Center on Halsted employees. The two individuals refused to give their names, police said.

But, they told the cops that they refused to cooperate any further unless the police had a warrant. The staff further claimed—erroneously—that federal health provider confidentiality laws (HIPAA) prohibit police from being there.

Officers told the staff members the obvious: The cops didn’t want health records or anything that would involve HIPAA. They only wanted to know if a theft offender was hiding on the premises.

“It was further explained that if the offender was on scene, the Center was, in effect harboring a fugitive,” police said in their report.

But, the Center on Halsted staff “repeatedly cited medical privacy laws as the reason the Center on Halsted would refuse to assist the police in any way regarding the apprehension of a criminal,” according to the report.

As the officers continued their discussions with Center staff, a security guard approached and said that the person they were looking for had left the building.

Given that information, the report says, “no further issue was made of the Center on Halsted’s refusal to cooperate with law enforcement at the time.”

Policy of Truth?

Even if HIPAA applied to cases like Monday’s (it doesn’t), the law specifically allows for accommodations when law enforcement is involved in a time-critical effort.

Where did we read that? Well, at the Center On Halsted’s website, for starters.

So, we wonder... Were the staff members really concerned about the privacy of healthcare records or were they more concerned with not helping the police?

Flashback To BYC

The Center staff are hardly the first social service agency workers to try to use the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to deflect officers in pursuit of known criminals.

CWB Chicago revealed in a detailed 2013 report that the Broadway Youth Center, formerly located at Broadway and Belmont, repeatedly blocked police efforts by erroneously citing the law.

Those cases, which involved violent offenders, were called “obstructions of justice” by police.

Before our report, BYC representatives claimed to have healthy relationships with the police, and they boasted about that “strong” relationship at community meetings.

But police officers of all ranks told very different stories in private, leading to our investigation, which was aided by members of the community.

Enjoy The Silence

We contacted COH Chief Executive Officer Modesto “Tico” Valle and Director of Public Relations Peter Johnson about Monday’s incident twice via email—once on Tuesday and again late yesterday afternoon. They did not respond.

Also, we have contacted 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, his Chief of Staff Bennett Lawson, and his Director of Public Safety and Community Affairs Chris Jessup about this case and other Center on Halsted matters three times since January 9. None of them has responded.

Their email addresses are provided here for your convenience.

  • Tom.Tunney@cityofchicago.org
  • Bennett.Lawson@cityofchicago.org
  • Chris.Jessup@cityofchicago.org
  • mvalle@centeronhalsted.org
  • pjohnson@centeronhalsted.org

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