The Whistleblowers series returns to CBS tonight, Friday, with its network news take on “people who put everything on the line to stop illegal and often dangerous wrongdoing when major corporations or individuals rip off the government and U.S. taxpayers.”
The season premiere tells the story of police corruption and Shannon Spalding, an undercover Chicago police officer who worked to expose it.
From the CBS announcement: “Additional cases that will be examined this season include a medical system where midwives are in charge of high-risk pregnancies; kickbacks at a crematorium; a scam allegedly involving counterfeit healthcare hardware being used in back surgery, which may have defrauded Medicare; and, for the first time on national television, two whistleblowers discuss how they brought suspicions of massive fraud by members of a polygamous cult to the FBI.”
In the Chicago case, officers were “shaking down” drug dealers and residents of a public housing complex, according to the Chicago Tribune. Spalding and her partner went to their supervisors and worked with FBI. They also filed lawsuit in 2012, “alleging that their supervisors told them to ‘disregard’ the wrongdoing and blackballed them.”
The Intercept news site ran a lengthy series on the Chicago case in 2016, where Spaulding described the force’s retaliation campaign. It included punitive reassignments and on-the-job harassment.
When Spalding and Echeverria were on the verge of breaking the case open, the investigation was sabotaged by a high-ranking official who outed them as “rats.” Other CPD brass ordered officers under their command to retaliate against Spalding and Echeverria for violating the code of silence. Reprisals were especially harsh against Spalding, leaving her financially devastated, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and stripped of the job she loves.
The lawsuit was settled in 2016 for $2 million. Two officers received short jail terms.
A 2016 post on the Poynter Institute journalism education website about the series criticizes the Chicago press for its poor coverage of the police department. It also offers this conclusion about the case.
Settlement aside, the tale does not really have a happy ending. The dirtiest cop got a light sentence on a smaller charge. Echeverria is very isolated within the department in the fugitive apprehension unit. Spalding essentially has lost a job she loved and was broken emotionally and financially (until the settlement, which includes stiff legal fees).