Update: Chicago’s Inspector General Recommends Discipline, Policy Review in Courtney Copeland Case

Copeland’s mother, Shapearl Wells, still fights for transparency as the city blocks the release of the full inspector general investigation.

Three years after the release of the “Somebody” podcast, Chicago continues to block the full release of the inspector general report investigating the police response to Courtney Copeland’s murder. In this update episode, Shapearl Wells discusses the summary findings of the report that were publicly shared while she presses on for full transparency.

[“Somebody” theme music: “Everybody’s Something” by Chance the Rapper featuring Saba and BJ the Chicago Kid.]

Shapearl Wells: Hey, it’s Shapearl. “Somebody” came out about three years ago. And since then, there’s a lot of things that has been happening in Courtney’s case. So I wanted to make sure I kept you up to date. 

Since this podcast came out, one of Courtney’s sister’s got married. And now I’m a grandma of two. One name is Josiah, and the other one’s name is Justus.

[Audio of Shapearl with her grandson.]

SW: Say, I love you. 

Justus: I love you. 

SW: I love you so much, Justus. 

SW: As a family, we’ve been going places that I know Courtney would love.

[Music playing on a boat.] 

SW: Hey Facebook, we are on our cruise. Go Jasmine! Go Alex. 

SW: We were having so much fun but I was always thinking of Courtney in the background because I know this is what he loved to do. 

SW:The water is so beautiful here. [Music and laughter in the background.] 

SW: Every year we have the Courtney Copeland Memorial Foundation gala.

[Audio from gala of DJ talking and music playing.]

Renee Faulkner: I’m Courtney Copeland’s grandmother. We still want justice for Courtney and that’s where we are focusing on now: to find the individuals who did this to him, to change the policies with the Chicago Police Department, and even change the laws regarding transporting gunshot victims to the hospitals. It needs to be a change. 

SW: Here’s my husband, Brent.

Brent Wells: It’s like a club that no one wants to get into, but the sad reality is that we’re in it, but let’s lean on each other for support to help us get through this together.

SW: Because of “Somebody,” a lot of people became interested in his story.

[Montage of voicemail messages.]

Caller one: My prayer goes out to you guys. I hope that you are able to find peace of mind, and know that your son, Courtney, is looking down on you smiling for everything that you’ve done for him so far. 

Caller two: I love this woman. Tell her to keep up the good work. I admire her. And may God bless her and her family. 

Caller three: I just wanted to let you know that you’re being heard everywhere. We hear you. We hear your son’s story and the heartbreak. 

Caller four: I am speaking on behalf of our family. My oldest sister was murdered in 1989. And I just really appreciated the honesty of the podcast and the openness that this family shared.  

Caller five: Having this story out there brings awareness. I just hope she knows that there’s a lot of us that support her and will think of her and will continue to fight for the racial injustice that happens here in our own city. There are people all over that are going to be fighting with you.  

[NBC “Dateline” interview.] 

Josh Mankiewicz [NBC “Dateline”]: You understand that in this country there is almost no family of any homicide victim who believes that the police are doing enough? Everybody wants to see more of an effort.

SW: Believe it or not, I was even on “Dateline.”

SW [on “Dateline”]: I don’t think a lot of families have access to the evidence that I had. 

SW: I was able to tell the whole world about what happened to Courtney that night. Because of the exposure that “Dateline” gave us, even the local stations like Channel 11 highlighted Courtney’s story.

WTTW: Not only does Shapearl Well[s] want to know who killed her son, but she also wants to know why Chicago police officers didn’t do more to assist her wounded son and why he died while handcuffed after asking officers for help.

SW: The city of Chicago’s inspector general [IG] actually took a look at the case, just to try to see if the Chicago Police Department did what they were supposed to do.

Bill Healy: Can we talk for one minute just about the inspector general’s report? It’s weird, the whole thing is weird.

SW: It’s not weird. It’s very strategic, I believe.

BH: On whose part?

SW: CPD [Chicago Police Department]. 

SW: So the inspector general report came out approximately about a year ago. In that four paragraph summary, it gave important information. It validated a lot of what our investigation uncovered. It definitely said without a doubt Courtney Copeland was handcuffed by Chicago police.

It also stated whoever handcuffed him needed to be with him in the ambulance, and because they weren’t, that violated CPD policy. 

The inspector general recommended that the sergeant be disciplined for his actions. But here’s what police said:

BH: CPD stated that it does not agree that the Office of the Inspector General proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the victim was in fact handcuffed prior to being transported to the hospital. How did you read, how did you feel when you read that? 

SW: I was pissed off. I was literally upset because I’m like, dang. My thing is that you took all of my son’s dignity in the final moments of his life. You made a mistake, and even almost six years later, you can’t admit it.

SW: So basically even the IG recognized that Courtney was indeed handcuffed. But CPD still denies that fact to this day.

And instead of disciplining the sergeant, they gave him a simple reprimand. They didn’t take him off the force. They didn’t put him on desk duty. They gave him a reprimand.

Another thing that the IG report highlighted was the treatment that I received from the detectives at the police station. Y’all remember this?

SW: Well, here I have some questions. 

Police Officer: No, no. No, you’re, you’re saying a lot of things. Tell me one. 

SW: Well, I’m, I’m gonna give you — 

Police Officer Tell me one. 

SW: I was upset, the way they treated me, because here I am — a grieving mother — asking what happened to my son, and this is how I was treated.

Police OfficerWhether you thank me or tell me to get fucked at the end of all of this, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. 

SW: Well no, I’m definitely going to thank you because that’s my goal. I want to know why my 22-year-old son was murdered — 

Police OfficerSo do I. So do I.

SW: — for no apparent reason.

Police OfficerSo do I. But as far as this whole Black, brown, green shit, it doesn’t matter to me.  

SW: The IG agreed with me that I was being disrespected. But by the time they said that, the detective had already retired.

The IG said that if the detective tried to re-enlist with the Chicago Police Department, that he shouldn’t be rehired. And they wanted that put in his file. But guess what? CPD also refused to do that.

Now I’m gonna turn this over to Alison so she can give you further updates. 

Hey, Alison.

Alison Flowers: Hey Shapearl. You know, there was one thing that came out of this report that has the potential to do a lot of good: a change in policy that the inspector general recommended, based on the very circumstances of Courtney’s death. 

Now this may seem like common sense but the recommendation is this: the department should review its policies about providing first aid to injured people they encounter, and transport them to hospitals. 

You remember “scoop and run” from the podcast?

[Clip from episode 7 of a person shouting “scoop…”] 

AF: When officers scoop up people who are hurt and run them to the hospital, it saves lives. But at the time of Courtney’s death, the only thing officers were required to do was call an ambulance. That’s the bare minimum and that’s exactly what they did. 

Back in 2016, if you can believe this, police only had to provide first aid to people who they had shot themselves, not people like Courtney who came to them with a gunshot wound. 

SW: To think that they have the choice is unbelievable to me. 

AF: CPD agreed to review their policies about all this stuff the inspector general exposed. But it appears that the department has taken no action to update anything. 

WTTW: A grieving mother is looking for answers and the full report by the city’s inspector general into the killing of her 22-year-old son Courtney Copeland.

AF: And above all, Shapearl wants to know who handcuffed Courtney.

The city’s law office has refused to turn over the full report. It’s like a black-hole where investigations go to die in secrecy. Shapearl got the final denial a couple of weeks ago.

SW: It’s Sunday morning. I’m sitting here at my dining room table. It took me a while to actually even think about recording something because I just feel so drained about not being able to find out the truth about what happened to my son.

[CBS News clip.]

CBS Anchor 1: It is official, Chicago has elected a new mayor. 

CBS Anchor 2: Progressive Democrat Brandon Johnson defeated fellow Democrat Paul Vallas in a close run-off race. He will now take mayor Lori Lightfoot’s seat. 

AF: These past few weeks, Shapearl’s been feeling more hopeful. And that’s because Chicago is getting a big change. Brandon Johnson is a former teacher and county commissioner, and Shapearl campaigned for him. 

AF: Hey Shapearl!

SW: Hey Alison, how are you?

AF: I’m good. How are you?

AF: As soon as I heard Johnson committed to releasing inspector general investigations, I called Shapearl.

SW: I love hearing that. That’s great.

AF: I know! [Laughs.] After all this fighting, all it takes is a new mayor to just promise to do that in a questionnaire. 

SW: It’s so important, you know, that you know we actually get this information out, not just for me, any of these other cases that they’re holding back, giving us all the details, I think it’s so crucial for the public to find out what’s actually happening in Chicago.

SW: There’s another development i wanna tell you guys about as well. 

SW: So i’m sitting in the car right before i’m going to meet the new sergeant that’s handling Courtney’s case. 

SW: Courtney’s case is now out of the cold case unit.

AF: Ok, we are back in the car. 

SW: Yes, and I would say this time, for the first time, meeting with CPD that they actually listened to the details of the case and what we did in our investigation. So I’m hopeful. 

I think they realized that I’m not going anywhere and that I’m going to keep pressing forward and trying to get justice for Courtney. 

Well he asked about three or four times if we were recording. [Laughs.]

AF: No, we’re not.

SW: I was like, “you’re thinking that we are recording.” You know, he was worried about being on a hot mic. This is Sergeant Keller. He was very very careful in what he stated and how he said things. He just basically listened. But you know, I shouldn’t have had to record the police. I should have been treated with dignity and respect. They never expected me to be the type of parent that would continue to ask questions and follow up. And I made it clear to Keller and Perez that I’m going to be in your face. You have this case now. I want: follow up. …   

SW: That was a year ago, but I can say that the detective has been giving me regular updates on Courtney’s case. He’s actually even re-interviewed some of the people that we interviewed during the podcast. So right now, I feel hopeful that maybe in the future we’ll get some answers.

I don’t know if Courtney will receive justice. But I know I won’t stop fighting for justice for him. And I’ll continue to fight until my last breath.

[“Somebody” theme music.]

We’d love to hear from you. 

Email us at info@somebodypodcast.com or leave us a voicemail at 773-270-0121. 

“Somebody” is a co-production of Topic Studios, The Intercept, the Invisible Institute, and iHeartRadio, in association with Tenderfoot TV

This bonus episode was produced by Alison Flowers, Erisa Apantaku, Bill Healy, and Sarah Geis.

For the Invisible Institute, Jamie Kalven is executive producer. 

For Topic Studios, Christy Gressman is executive producer. 

For The Intercept, Roger Hodge is supervising producer and editor-in-chief.

Legal review by David Bralow and special thanks to Laura Flynn.

Sound design and mix by Bart Warshaw at Cocoon Audio.

And our theme music is by Chance the Rapper. 

Original music for this podcast is by Eric Butler and Nate Fox of the Social Experiment.

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