The Chicago Police Board on Thursday fired four police officers for allegedly covering up the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white officer.
The nine-member board found the officers exaggerated the threat posed by the 17-year-old McDonald to justify his shooting by Jason Van Dyke and voted unanimously for the dismissal of Stephen Franko, and officers Janet Mondragon and Ricardo Viramontes. All but one voted to fire Daphne Sebastian because of violations of department rules. She was not found to have made false reports.
The release of dashboard video of the shooting in November 2015 ignited many protests in the city, as well as calls for the resignation of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The video showed Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into McDonald, many after the teen, who was carrying a knife, had crumpled to the ground. McDonald appeared to be walking away when Van Dyke began firing.
The video had a key role in Thursday’s decision, as the images it revealed contradicted police reports, the city police panel found in a decision released online.
“Each respondent’s misconduct is incompatible with continued service as an officer and warrants a penalty of discharge from the Chicago Police Department,” the Police Board of the City of Chicago said in its 55-page decision.
Lawyers for the fired officers were not immediately available to comment to Reuters news agency early on Friday.
None of the panel members were immediately available for comment.
The Fraternal Order of Police slammed the police board for its decision, contending the officers did nothing wrong.
“It is obvious that this police board has out-served its usefulness,” said the organisation’s vice president Patrick Murray.
Van Dyke was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison after being convicted of second-degree murder in October 2018. He was the first on-duty Chicago police officer to be convicted for the killing of a black person.
Van Dyke originally faced 20 years in prison for second-degree murder and up to 30 years for each of 16 counts of aggravated battery – one count for each shot he fired at McDonald, who was carrying a knife.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused the officers of either giving or approving knowingly false statements. None of the four were charged criminally, however they were stripped of police powers and assigned to desk duty as their case proceeded. The firings can be appealed through a lawsuit.
A Cook County judge acquitted three other officers in January of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct charges in the case.
Former Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and official misconduct. Prosecutors said they lied to shield Van Dyke from prosecution. A judge rejected the contention that a video of McDonald’s death proved police officers staged a cover-up.
The McDonald case has roiled the criminal justice system in Chicago. The then-police superintendent, Gerry McCarty, was fired by then-Mayor Emanuel and the then-top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, was removed by voters. Many believe Emanuel decided against running for a third term because of the case. It also led to a US Justice Department investigation that found a “pervasive cover-up culture” and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.
The shooting also put the city at the centre of the national conversation about police brutality and excessive force.
According to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force database, at least 487 people have been killed by police in the US so far in 2019. At least 992 people were killed by the police in 2018 and more than 980 people were killed by police the previous year.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights campaign aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.