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CPS teacher gave officials the wrong name of boyfriend after video showed him striking a student, records show

Veteran Chicago police Officer Craig Lancaster leaves following his arraignment at the Leighton Courthouse in Chicago on Nov. 16, 2023. Lancaster was charged with battery following an incident at Gresham School last May in which he allegedly struck a young teen. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

As Chicago police Officer Craig Lancaster awaits trial on a felony aggravated battery charge for striking an eighth grade student, newly released documents show that his girlfriend — a Chicago Public Schools teacher — gave a CPS official the wrong last name for Lancaster and identified him as a computer company employee instead of a cop.

Records show the teacher sent an email to her principal shortly after Lancaster’s off-duty altercation and said her friend Craig “Wiliams” grabbed the teen because the boy disregarded her directions to line up and directed inappropriate words at her in response. She also told the principal her friend worked for a computer company, according to a redacted incident report obtained by The Chicago Tribune.

A CPS spokesperson declined to answer questions about the discrepancies, citing the school system’s ongoing investigation into the altercation. School officials provided the student’s grandmother with the officer’s correct name and occupation the following morning.

The couple have been dating for about 20 years, according to Lancaster’s attorney.

The Tribune obtained the incident report and the teacher’s email as part of an open records request submitted to Chicago Public Schools in October. Lancaster was indicted in November, shortly after the Tribune published a video that shows the veteran officer hitting 14-year-old JaQuwaun Williams near his throat as the boy walked into Gresham Elementary School on May 18.

The school system released the records following Lancaster’s arraignment last month, at which he pleaded not guilty and was barred from stepping on school property.

The teacher declined to comment when reached by the Tribune.

Records show Lancaster, 55, made an off-duty visit to Gresham Elementary in May to bring money to his girlfriend, a math teacher who was directing students into the building before classes began. ‭Prosecutors have said the teacher had left the school door open, apparently creating confusion among the students as to whether they were supposed to be lining up or were allowed to enter.

A security recording of the incident, which does not have sound, shows JaQuwaun walking toward the open door with a friend. Before the teen enters the building, Lancaster steps into his path and strikes him in the throat area, according to the video.

The blow sends the teen reeling backward. The teacher steps between them and orders JaQuwaun to stand near the wall. He complies and is allowed to enter the school minutes later.

The officer and JaQuwaun have acknowledged the teen said something as he headed toward the open door, though prosecutors say the two offered different accounts about the intended target of the comments.

The teen told the Tribune he was complaining to his friend about a foul that took place on the playground basketball court just a few minutes earlier. In an email to Gresham Principal Kimberly Oliver several hours after the incident, the teacher said the boy had directed his anger at her.

His “response to my statement was stop talking to me bitch along with other inappropriate words while disregarding my direction,” she wrote. “Craig went to grabbed (redacted) and said do not talk to her like that. I instrustioned Craig to let (redacted) go and leave.” (The Tribune is publishing these quotes verbatim.)

A fifth grade teacher who witnessed the altercation described Lancaster in more aggressive terms.

“I observed a man whose name I don’t know shove a student whose name I don’t know in the upper chest/neck area with his full strength,” the teacher wrote in an email to Oliver, also obtained by the Tribune. “He yelled at the student something to the effect of ‘who the (expletive) you talking to?’ multiple times and continued to approach the student as the student walked backward away from him.”

The video shows Lancaster, who is wearing civilian clothes, leaving the schoolyard less than a minute after the incident.

According to a redacted incident report written on school letterhead, Lancaster lifted his shirt and “revealed a badge and gun holster” when a security guard stopped him in the school parking lot. It’s unclear whether the holster held a weapon, according to the report.

The incident report indicates Lancaster’s girlfriend told the principal that Lancaster worked at American Heritage Computer Co., though the Illinois secretary of state’s office has no record of a business by that name. Public records and social media posts indicate Lancaster has a second job working for a security company with a similar name.

Lancaster is a 30-year Chicago police veteran who began his career with the department as a civilian employee. He was relieved of his police powers after a grand jury indicted him last month and remains on administrative duty. Battery is typically a misdemeanor charge in Illinois, though it can be upgraded to a felony if the incident takes place on public property.

Lancaster attorney Tim Grace has said the officer intervened because the teen was a threat to those around him. Grace told the Tribune he believes prosecutors went too far by charging Lancaster with a crime that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. The officer also could receive probation under the sentencing guidelines outlined in court.

The teen’s family is suing Lancaster and the city of Chicago, accusing the latter of instilling a sense of impunity among the police ranks by failing to investigate and punish misconduct. JaQuwaun’s attorney, Jordan Marsh, said he has seen the teacher’s statement and incident report as part of discovery in the civil case.

“It raises more questions than it answers,” Marsh said. “I just don’t know why there is such a strange series of misstatements and omissions. I don’t want to disparage anyone without having all the information, but it is odd.”

In a recent Tribune interview, JaQuwaun said he repeatedly asked to call his grandmother — whom he calls “Mom” and who has raised him since he was young — as soon as he got inside the building after the incident, but school officials denied his requests. His grandmother said he is seeing a therapist and has had trouble sleeping since the incident.

JaQuwaun is now a 15-year-old freshman at Simeon Career Academy.


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