4 Chicago police officers fired over statements they made after another officer fatally shot Laquan McDonald
Four Chicago police officers were fired Thursday over false or misleading statements made after the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald by another officer. The city’s police board made the decision.
The officer who killed McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the killing of McDonald, 17, and he was sentenced in January to six years and nine months in prison.
Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 had recommended that Sgt. Stephen Franko and officers Ricardo Viramontes, Janet Mondragon and Daphne Sebastian be fired for violating rules of conduct after the shooting, according to the board’s decision released Thursday.
Franko, who was the first on-scene supervisor in the October 2014 shooting, approved reports that “contained several demonstrable and known falsehoods,” including that Van Dyke was injured by the teenager, who had been carrying a knife, the police board wrote in the decision.
The other three officers, all of whom were on the scene, gave statements about the shooting, and the board found that “each of the three officers failed in their duty — either by outright lying or by shading the truth.”
Those statements were critical because they would be used by investigators to determine whether the shooting of McDonald was justified and whether a crime occurred, the board wrote.
“Their conduct is antithetical to that expected and required of a sworn law enforcement officer,” the police board wrote in the decision released Thursday.
An email to the president of the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7, was not immediately returned Thursday night.
One official with the Fraternal Order of Police objected at the meeting, saying the decision to fire the officers would lead to more violence in the city and against police, because officers will fear they can be fired merely for responding to a job
“These four people, unfortunately, are getting fired because of what other people did or didn’t do,” a different FOP official, Patrick Murray said, according to the station. “These police officers did their job.”
None of the four officers fired by the police board were charged criminally, however they were stripped of police powers and assigned to desk duty as their case proceeded, The Associated Press reported.
The teen’s death led to protests in Chicago. The police superintendent at the time, Garry McCarthy, was fired by the mayor in 2015, one week after police dashcam video of the deadly encounter was released.
Van Dyke and other officers were responding to reports that McDonald was carrying a knife and breaking into cars in the city’s Southwest Side.
Dashcam footage of the shooting released a year later showed McDonald walking away from the officers when Van Dyke opened fire and continued to shoot at the teen, even when he was already on the ground. Van Dyke at his trial testified that he feared for his life.
The police board said in its decision Thursday that Franko had the opportunity to watch the dashcam video in the hours after the incident but admitted that while he watched “bits and pieces” of the video, he did not watch the whole video despite being tasked with reviewing officers’ reports.
The board found that Franko not watching the entire video was “incredible.”
“A fatal, officer-involved shooting had occurred, and perhaps the key piece of contemporaneous evidence as to what had happened was available to Sergeant Franko for hours,” the board wrote.
The board said that Viramontes told a detective that he saw McDonald continue to move and try and get up off the ground, with the knife still in his hand, after he was shot, and that video evidence showed that was false.
The police board said that Mondragon didn’t appear to be truthful when she told investigators that she was putting her vehicle in park and looking down and did not see the shooting, when video evidence showed the car was in motion for the first four seconds of the shooting.
The board said Sebastian told a detective that McDonald ignored the commands of Van Dyke and another officer to drop the knife and that McDonald kept advancing waving the knife and that McDonald was moving on the ground after he was shot. The board did not find that she made false statements and said her account largely bore some semblance as to what happened.
“She did not, however, offer a precise statement as to the timing of these events, nor did she mention the critical fact that Mr. McDonald was walking away from the officers at the time he was shot,” the board wrote.
The police board noted that none of the officers were responsible for the fatal shooting, but said they needed to be fired for failing to accurately report it and “for telling outright lies and/or half-truths.”
The four officers can challenge their firings by filing lawsuits in Cook County Circuit Court, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Three other officers who were criminally charged and accused of conspiring to protect Van Dyke were acquitted by a Cook County judge in January.
The U.S. Department of Justice in early January 2017 released a report that said among other things, Chicago police officers had skewed probes and had a “code of silence” to favor and protect officers.