Northwest Side Police Commander Cost Taxpayers Nearly $5 million

Last September, the City Council voted 49–1 in favor of a $3.8 million settlement to resolve a harassment case within the Chicago Police Department in which a police officer was retaliated against by her superiors after she reported threatening and abusive behavior from a fellow officer.

This story was widely reported on at the time by WBEZ, the Sun-Times and NPR; however, the commanding officer who directly retaliated against the whistleblower was rarely named and now has an important Northwest Side position and close ties to the one alderperson who voted against the settlement.

The origin of this ‘Code of Silence’ case goes back to 2012. The whistleblower, Officer Laura Kubiak, had worked in CPD’s Office of News Affairs (ONA) since 2000. Prior to that she had spent fourteen years as a beat patrol officer.

Problems started in 2009 when Officer Veejay Zala was reassigned to ONA. At the time, Zala reportedly had 31 complaints against him. Zala had also just been named in a federal civil lawsuit over charges of battery and use of excessive force in a 2007 incident in which, without any cause, he ordered a passenger sitting in a parked car out of the car, shoved him to the ground, handcuffed, then proceeded to punch him in the face to the point he required hospitalization. That case ultimately cost taxpayers $95,000.

Based on data published by the Citizens Police Data Project, Zala was objectively one of the worst police officers on the force. Zala had more complaints from other police officers than 79% of other officers, more civilian allegations than 95% of other officers, and more use of force reports than 93% of his peers.

According to court documents, throughout Zala’s detail with the ONA, he “often lost his temper and directed his outbursts toward his colleagues, and more pointedly toward females, including Officer Kubiak.”

In November 2012, Zala flew into a rage, apparently angry over a report drafted by Kubiak. According to the lawsuit, and subsequently acknowledged by city lawyers as true, Kubiak was leaving work at the end of her shift, walking with another officer, when Zala ran toward her. Zala ran up to Kubiak and screamed at her, ‘Who the fuck do you think you are, you stupid bitch?’

Zala repeatedly shook his finger in Kubiak’s face and then swung his hand back as if to strike her. Kubiak dodged and backed away. Zala continued to yell at Kubiak, shouting, “You are nothing, you are a stupid bitch, you don’t know how to be the police, I am the police, I am the real police.”

This incident was witnessed by other ONA employees. One witness expressed “fear that Officer Zala was going to pull out his gun and shoot Officer Kubiak.”

Kubiak went to her superiors over the incident. After her immediate supervisor ignored her concerns, Kubiak escalated to the Commanding Officer of News Affairs, Lieutenant Maureen Biggane.

Had this happened in nearly any professional setting, with multiple witnesses, Zala would have been quickly terminated; however, this is the police, where the Code of Silence reigns. Biggane repeatedly ignored Kubiak’s concerns. After several ignored attempts to discuss the incident with Biggane over the course of several weeks, Kubiak finally submitted a formal memo about the incident, which triggered an Internal Affairs investigation.

After being made aware of the incident, Biggane reportedly assigned Kubiak to work directly with Zala on several occasions—a man so violently out of control at least one coworker thought he was capable of shooting Kubiak in anger.

Commander Maureen Biggane (16th District) and Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th)

The Internal Affairs investigation sustained Kubiak’s complaint. Zala was ultimately suspended for one day. Within days of the Internal Affairs findings, Biggane reassigned Kubiak out of ONA, detailing her to midnight patrols in “one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago as a beat patrol officer” — a clear act of retaliation.

Kubiak sued.

A jury agreed with Kubiak that she was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on a fellow officer. They awarded Kubiak $1.4 million in damages and $400,000 in lost wages. The remainder of the $3.8 million approved by City Council was to pay Kubiak’s legal fees. It’s estimated that the City spent an additional $1 million on outside counsel fees in their losing legal battle, bringing the grand total to nearly $5 million.

Documents obtained by WBEZ showed that Kubiak was willing to drop the lawsuit, if CPD simply reinstated her in her ONA position. In the Council meeting where this vote took place, indicted Alderperson Ed Burke was incredulous that the police had not simply reinstated Kubiak to save the city millions, “Somebody has to take responsibility for costing the taxpayers four million bucks.”

The statement was directed at lawyers, but it’s unclear why no one seems to be asking why the commanding officer who put the city in legal jeopardy in the first place has faced no scrutiny for her actions. How did Biggane ignore obvious threats against a fellow officer, retaliate against a whistleblower, ultimately cost the taxpayers nearly $5 million, and then get promoted to Commander of the 16th District on the Northwest Side?

Biggane was promoted to Commander by former Superintendent Eddie Johnson in November, 2018. Johnson is currently facing a lawsuit by an Officer, claiming he raped and abused her repeatedly over several years. The Kubiak case was also not Biggane’s first role in a cover-up. In 2011, in Biggane’s role at ONA, she coordinated messaging to the press in the Chicago police’s cover-up of the killing of a 21-year old man by Richard Vanecko, former Mayor Richard Daley’s nephew.

Commander Biggane, Officer Evan Solano, and Ald. Gardiner honoring Officer Solano in November, 2019.

It will come as little surprise to those familiar with Northwest Side politics that the solitary alderperson to defy the Council by voting against the settlement was Alderperson Gardiner. Gardiner has his own documented history of abuse toward women, use of retaliatory tactics, and treating the Chicago police as pawns in his schemes. According to former 45th Ward staff, Gardiner even called in a special favor to the 16th District to have an officer dispatched to stand by in his office, as he fired two aides last June, apparently concerned for his own personal safety.

Earlier this year, it was Biggane’s 16th District Officer Evan Solano who shot Anthony Alvarez in the back during a foot chase in Portage Park. Solano was then recorded pulling his service weapon during a road rage incident in Logan Square. Gardiner later helped organized a pro-cop rally to heckle the family and supporters of the slain Alvarez.

Just weeks ago it was 16th District officers who conveniently slow-walked an investigation into an attack on one of Alderperson Gardiner’s critics, taking nearly six days to arrest a woman whose identity police had known within an hour after the attack. The woman, who was Facebook friends with 16th District Lieutenant John Garrido and 16th District Sergeant Ammie Kessem, was ultimately charged with three misdemeanors.

Chicago Northwest Side News. Watchdog. Holding public officials and candidates accountable.