Police officer files “cyberstalking” allegation against Alderman Arena, who issues denial
by BRIAN NADIG
A police officer who reportedly is one of the city workers who Alderman John Arena’s office filed a complaint against for their online comments about a housing proposal has filed a police report alleging that the alderman committed “cyberstalking in social media messages” to her, according to the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7.
Arena’s office released a statement on March 21 denying the allegation, stating that “as with the other false and frivolous claims we have endured through the years, we’re confident this too will be dismissed.”
Officer Erin Jones, a 14-year police veteran, claims that the alderman sent her “harassing” messages through Facebook Messenger earlier this month.
In one of the messages, Arena said, “I only want to fire the bigots like you,”
and Jones reportedly responded, “Alderman, I have asked you repeatedly to stop harassing me. Your constant harassment is uncalled for and causing me stress. Please do not contact me again,” according to the FOP.
Arena then responded, “Got it snowflake. You take care,” and Jones then wrote, “ I’m not sure why you feel the need to call me names and harass me. I have asked you repeatedly to stop bothering me, yet you continue. You are abusing the power of your office to intimidate and harass me, and I find that disturbing. I am no longer asking you. I am telling you to stop contacting me,” according to the FOP.
Arena then responds, “ok,” according to the FOP, which posted a screenshot of the reported exchange between Arena and Jones.
A state statute defines “cyberstalking” as when someone directs electronic communication at a specific individual that the creator of the communication knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to “fear for his or her safety” or “suffer emotional distress,” which is defined as “significant mental suffering, anxiety or alarm.”
In its statement, the FOP said, “CPD officer Erin Jones is part of a group of city employees who claim that Alderman Arena and his staff have attempted to silence them because they oppose a building project in Arena’s (ward). Arena reportedly filed complaints against officers with the police civilian oversight agency, COPA, as well as complaints against firemen who opposed a building project at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
“Arena staff members alleged in their complaints that the officers’ opposition to the project were ‘racially motivated.’” The housing project would include a mix of market-rate, affordable and low-income apartments, including Chicago Housing Authority-subsidized units.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh issued the following statement: “This false and frivolous complaint comes from an individual who has, almost daily for the last year, repeated and causticly engaged with our office online via multiple pseudonyms. In this case, she posted to the alderman’s page accusing him of wanting to fire all police officers. That claim is categorically false, and the alderman told her so.
“Also, incidentally, her profile photo at the time was of a snowflake, which is why the alderman referred to her as such.”
A spreadsheet used by Arena’s staff recorded the occupations of the government workers who reportedly made racially charged comments. The city recently released a copy of the spreadsheet, which included the names of about 70 individuals, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
FOP attorney Tim Grace said, “It is difficult to believe that our elected officials would act like a school yard bully against the very people they serve. Nobody is above the law, even Chicago aldermen.”
Some of the workers’ comments were critical of Arena and subsidized housing, including comparisons of the proposal to the former Cabrini Green housing project which the city had demolished in 2011.
Arena has said that members of the community have found the workers’ comments to be insensitive and that he had an obligation to report the individuals to the appropriate agency, which would then investigate the matter. Arena’s office consulted on the matter with the Anti-Defamation League and the city’s Inspector General’s office.
About 6,000 people have signed a petition against the housing proposal, and about $40,000 was raised to help pay for a lawsuit filed by area property owners to stop the project. The lawsuit is pending.
Meanwhile, supporters for the project include Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, which has called for an end to the “shameful legacy” of segregation in the area, the Service Employees International Union, which had representatives testifying in favor of the proposal at public hearings, and the Chicago Housing Initiative.
Arena had the property downzoned in 2016 to stop initial plans for only a storage warehouse there, and the property owner, which is a development company that sued the city for violating its property rights, later agreed to sell the southern half of the parcel to Full Circle Communities, which has promised to give a preference for the units to veterans. The seven-story building would include 75 apartments.