Yesterday, 47-year-old detective Dante Servin quit the police force. The news came two days before a police board hearing that might have led to his firing, which former top cop Garry McCarthy recommended last year after the Independent Police Review Authority found Servin was unjustified when he shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in 2012.
For months, activists in Chicago—including Boyd’s brother—have demanded that the city fire Servin and strip him of his pension. While the former is no longer possible, protesters took to social media and public transit shortly after the announcement to demand #DontPayDante. But considering the strong protections for police officers and a lack of accountability made most clear in a recent mayoral task force report, how possible is it to take away Servin’s pension?
It's not easy: The rules governing whether a police officer keeps their pension are etched in state law. Chicago cops who serve at least 20 years on the force can start collecting a lifetime of pension payments when they turn 50, which means Servin just has to wait a few years to cash in on his annuity. At that time, he’s eligible to receive annual benefits equal to half his $97,000 salary.
According to the Illinois Pension Code, “none of the benefits…shall be paid to any person who is convicted of any felony relating to or arising out of or in connection with his service as a policeman.” That means that Servin could collect a pension even if convicted of a felony, since he was off duty when he fired at Boyd and a group of friends, striking the young black woman in the head and ending her life. The state law says nothing about a police board ruling or the city having any say as to whether he gets a pension.
A city law department spokesman confirmed that since the pension is a matter of state law, the city has no power over it. The Chicago Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund, which manages pension benefits for cops and their survivors, and Servin’s lawyer were not reachable for comment.
Boyd’s brother Martinez Sutton says for Servin to walk away on his own terms with his pension intact is just a continuation of how the detective has evaded serious consequences in the criminal justice system and police disciplinary system since he killed Boyd in 2012.
“The rules were already written,” Sutton says. “I knew it was going to happen. I mean, how many people have you heard of who have gotten so-called justice when a police officer's actions hurt or led to the death of their family member?”
Servin avoided conviction last year when, rather than being charged with murder, prosecutors charged him with felony counts of involuntary manslaughter, reckless conduct, and reckless discharge of a firearm. Last April, a Cook County judge threw all of the charges out, ruling that pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger "is so dangerous it is beyond reckless; it is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first degree murder.” In 2013, Chicago paid a $4.5 million settlement to Boyd's family without admitting any wrongdoing from Servin or the city.
In his exit from the department now, Servin “ducks under the wire and protects his pension rights, and protects his record in the sense that he’s not fired from the Chicago Police Department—he’s resigned,” says civil rights lawyer Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office.
“I think it’s outrageous in the same way it was outrageous for [Jon] Burge to continue to get his pension,” Taylor says.
Burge, the former CPD commander who currently gets more than $4,000 a month in pension payments, ran a so-called “midnight crew” of officers who allegedly tortured more than 100 black men in Chicago for decades without any of the officers losing their pensions. As pointed out in an email from former police board executive director Mark Iris, the Chicago Policemen's Annuity and Benefit Fund “can be very lenient.” Even a conviction for lying about the torture and a mound of evidence of the atrocities weren’t enough to strip Burge’s benefits.
“Servin is just another example of how the system works in favor of the officer,” Taylor says.
Other ways the Illinois Pension Code says a cop can lose pension benefits is if they are “convicted of any felony while in receipt of disability benefits,” or if they are “convicted of any felony relating to …the intentional and wrongful death of a police officer, either active or retired, through whom such person would become eligible to receive, or is receiving, an annuity.” (In other words, cops who kill another officer who is their parent or spouse can’t collect that parent or spouse’s pension, or their own.) None of these situations apply to Servin, either.
BYP100, a group that has been calling for Servin’s firing for months, issued a statement that says “resignation allows Servin to take up employment as a police officer in any other city or town, which still puts Black people in danger and subjects us to police violence and control. Likewise, resignation creates space for police like Servin to leave with dignity—something Servin does not deserve since he snatched Rekia’s ability to live in her full dignity.”
The activist group also railed against the fact that Servin would receive “a pension that is paid for by us Chicagoans.”
But while there’s not much anybody in City Hall can do to strip Servin’s pension under state law, Boyd’s brother says that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t push lawmakers in Chicago and downstate—and the police pension board—to do something about it.
“With public pressure,” Sutton says, “man, anything can happen.”