The Chicago Police Board voted Thursday to fire four officers who are accused of covering up the 2014 killing of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot 16 times by a white police officer.
The nine-member board, which is a police disciplinary agency within the city, announced that Sgt. Stephen Franko and Officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes would be discharged from the Chicago Police Department.
The board found that the officers exaggerated the threat that 17-year-old McDonald posed in order to justify Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting him 16 times in October 2014. Franko was Van Dyke’s immediate superior, and the three other officers were on the scene when Van Dyke shot McDonald.
In their findings, the board said Franko approved reports that contained several falsehoods, including that McDonald assaulted Van Dyke and the other officers, injuring Van Dyke in the process. Franko also allegedly failed to make sure his officers were using the audio component of their in-car video systems, depriving the police department of a critical information source related to the shooting.
The board found that the remaining three officers “failed in their duty” to provide truthful statements to investigators, “either by outright lying or by shading the truth,” according to the findings.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson filed charges in 2016 with the board, calling for the officers to be fired for making false reports about McDonald’s death. The four accused officers were assigned to desk duty during the Police Board’s case, though none of them were criminally charged. They can challenge their dismissals by filing lawsuits in court, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The board unanimously voted to fire Viramontes, Mondragon and Franko for several violations, including making false statements. All but one board member voted to fire Sebastian for bringing discredit to the police department and preventing it from achieving its goals, though she was not accused of making a false statement.
Patrick Murray, first vice president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, told the Tribune that the officers did nothing wrong and that “this Police Board has out-served its usefulness.” The police union defended Van Dyke during the case, giving him a job with the FOP even as he faced murder charges.
The vote comes nearly five years after Van Dyke killed the teenager on Chicago’s South Side for carrying a small knife, causing nationwide outrage. Police dashcam footage released in 2015 shows Van Dyke firing 16 shots into McDonald, including many that were shot after the teen had already fallen to the ground. The video contradicts several claims the police made, including the false allegation that the teenager was lunging at officers with his knife when Van Dyke repeatedly shot at him.
Van Dyke was sentenced in January to just under seven years in prison for second-degree murder. He was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery, but the judge decided against sentencing him on that. Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul asked the state Supreme Court to order Van Dyke to be resentenced after activists expected a more severe punishment. The court rejected the request.
Earlier this year, a judge found three other police officers ― Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh and David March ― not guilty of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy in the McDonald case. Prosecutors alleged those officers lied to shield Van Dyke from prosecution.
The Thursday decision is likely the final punishment in the case that shook Chicago’s criminal justice system and led to nationwide protests over police brutality. Many believe the city’s fight to keep the dashcam footage secret was a cover-up by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and they see the McDonald case as the biggest stain on his legacy. Emanuel fired then-top cop Garry McCarthy after the scandal, and then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was unseated by Kim Foxx in her reelection bid after she delayed bringing charges against Van Dyke.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer in half a century to be convicted of murder for an on-duty shooting.