Police Board mulls whether to fire them as they stand accused of lying in Laquan McDonald case
Crusader Staff Report
The fate of four officers is in the hands of the Chicago Police Board, which is considering firing them after they were accused of lying to cover up facts in the Laquan McDonald case.
Lawyers for the city say Daphne Sebastian, Janet Mondragon, Ricardo Viramontes and Sgt. Stephen Franko should be fired for falsifying or approving reports that contradicted a dash video that shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014.
On April 12, the Chicago Police Board heard closing arguments that capped three days of intense hearings at a downtown office. Now, the wait begins for officers seeking to keep their jobs and activists seeking more justice in a case that put police misconduct in Chicago in the national spotlight.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder last October and is serving nearly seven years in prison. Two months after his conviction, Joseph Walsh, David Marsh and Thomas Gaffney—three officers in the McDonald case—were acquitted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and misconduct charges.
Legal experts say the acquittal of the three officers shouldn’t be a factor in the Police Board’s decision whether to fire the four officers because of its lower burden of proof.
In the latest case, all four officers accused of lying to cover up McDonald’s murder remain on the police department payroll.
They have been stripped of their police powers and are on desk duty. In August 2016, the police department filed administrative charges to recommend the officers be fired, but the Chicago Police Department postponed the hearings until the trials of Van Dyke and the three officers ended.
During opening arguments on April 10, John Gibbons, the attorney for Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, told the Police Board the officers had an important duty to tell the truth.
“The dishonesty of a single officer may impair public confidence and cast suspicion and disrespect on the entire department, that is what this case is about,” Gibbons said.
One of the officers, Franko, said he signed off on accounts given by Van Dyke and Walsh, who said McDonald was attacking them when he was shot because that was “their perception of what occurred that night.”
Franko said after watching the police video, he didn’t see any of the officers use deadly force on McDonald.
Viramontes initially said during the shooting that he yelled at McDonald to drop a knife that he was walking with before he was shot. He also said McDonald was walking towards Van Dyke before the fatal shooting.
After he saw the video, Viramontes acknowledged that his statements did not match up to events shown in the video.
City attorneys reportedly said that Viramontes contradicted himself, saying he didn’t know who had told McDonald to drop the knife. Viramontes maintains that he initially gave a description of the events that led to McDonald’s death.
Mondragon arrived on the scene in her police vehicle. She said she didn’t see the shooting because she was looking down as she shifted the car into park. But Gibbons said Mondragon was lying because a video shows that her car was moving when the shooting occurred.
Mondragon’s attorney, William Fahy, said his client was “startled” and that Mondragon put her head down.
“She did stop the car, she did put it in park,” Fahy said.
On April 12, the last day of hearings, Fahy told the board, “If a police officer doesn’t see every single thing on video, it doesn’t make them a liar.”
At that same hearing, Sebastian told a police detective that McDonald continued to move after he was shot. But Tiffany Fordyce, one of the city’s lawyers, reminded the board that earlier in the week Sebastian testified that McDonald wasn’t a threat. Sebastian’s attorney, Brian Sexton, said his client’s statement that McDonald was moving towards his killer and Walsh is supported by slow-motion video. Sexton said either way, Sebastian’s perception is what should matter.
Jennifer Russell, Viramontes’ attorney, said slow-motion video also proves that her client was truthful in his statements.
Franko testified that he had seen only a “bit” of the video. Fordyce, the city attorney, said Franko “utterly failed in his obligation” to ensure police reports about the fatal shooting were accurate. Fordyce said Franko had an opportunity to view the video footage before he reviewed the reports.
In closing arguments, lawyers for the officers said the city had no proof their clients lied about the shooting.
“I find it interesting that the city’s conspiracy theory is that one of the conspirators wasn’t there and didn’t see it,” said Thomas Pleines, Franko’s attorney.