The Watch

News and Information for Chicago FOP members.

FOP Attorneys Attack Charges Against Officer In Opening Statement

Former police board president, mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot under fire again…

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During opening statements at a Chicago Police Board hearing Friday, attorneys for a Chicago Police officer who has been stripped and placed in a no-pay status for a fatal 2012 police shooting asked a central question.

How is it that an officer can win a departmental commendation as well as the praise of all his supervisors and co-workers for his actions in a shooting, then be stripped and potentially fired for the same event?  How can this officer be awarded the medal of valor from another incident, then have that very same incident brought up in an investigation against him?

That’s exactly what the City is doing in the bringing of charges against Officer Brandon Ternand for the fatal shooting of Dakota Bright after Ternand and his partner spotted Bright holding a pistol in an alley in the Third District. Bright, wearing gang colors, fled when he spotted Ternand and his partner. The officers gave chase, calling out that Ternard was holding his side.

Bright fled into the back yards of several residences, refusing orders to stop. Boxed in by officers, Bright turned and reached into his left side, prompting Ternand, fearing for his life, to fire a round that fatally struck Bright in the head. A weapon was recovered a short distance from the shooting scene, dumped by Bright in the course of the chase.

But FOP attorney Tim Grace attacked the very fact that charges were brought against Ternand when so many others who reviewed the shooting awarded him honors, breaking down in detail how Ternand’s actions followed police procedure in every manner. Grace and his partner, Jim Thompson, argued that Ternand reasonably believed Bright was armed and about to shoot Ternard.

"What kind of world have we placed our policemen and women in when they are given praise and official departmental commendations for their actions and then the City seeks termination of their jobs for the very same action?  No supervisor or commander all the way up to Superintendent Johnson has said that Brandon acted improperly but rather upheld the highest traditions of the Chicago Police Department,” said Grace in his opening statement.

Grace’s claim that the city’s schizophrenic response to the 2012 shooting is not isolated. The FOP has condemned the ruling by the City’s civilian oversight agency, COPA, that a 2015 fatal shooting by Officer Robert Rialmo was not justified. The Chicago Police Board voted at their last meeting to take up the case amidst protests by the FOP.

In response to the police board decision, the FOP also demanded clarification from the police department and the City on when officers can use force and when they can’t. The City has not responded.

It’s not just the police board and COPA under fire. The City’s Corporation Counsel is also considering a move to send the case of two police officers, John Wrigley and Jack O’Keefe, to the police board merely because they made insignificant errors about the location of items at a crime scene. The officers’ testimony, which had no bearing on the legitimacy of the arrest, placed the items a few feet in the wrong direction. Wrigley and O’Keefe recovered a submachine gun, a pistol and a cache of narcotics from the offender.

Wrigley won a Medal of Valor after he was shot by an offender during a 2005 traffic stop. After two trials spanning nine years, the offender was sent to prison, only to have his sentence commuted by former Governor Pat Quinn moments before Quinn left office.

Now it appears the City may move to fire Wrigley and O'Keefe.

Here is the reality of policing in Chicago: Officers do not know when they can use force or whether any error they make in the course of their testimony will be termed perjury.

Just as troubling is the emerging evidence of misconduct by City institutions in the oversight of police. In the Rialmo case, FOP attorney Tim Grace discovered evidence that COPA hid the findings of the third-party investigators from the prosecutors, the public, and the superintendent. To this day, COPA has not released those findings. This from an agency that trumpeted transparency when it was formed.

And just yesterday, the Chicago Tribune reported that former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot had bought domain names indicating that she was planning to run for mayor in the upcoming election just months after she accepted her appointment to the police board from Mayor Rahm Emanuel. When she accepted the appointment, she said she wasn’t going to run for mayor, the Tribune wrote.  

The FOP has been highly critical of the manner in which Lightfoot ran the police board. Her votes seemed strikingly biased against officers, and she often voted in the minority, supporting discipline against officers when little or no evidence emerged to support it. Her statements at police board meetings seemed to pander to anti-police activists, and she regularly remained silent while the meetings degenerated into a mob action of bizarre and baseless claims of police racism and misconduct.

With the story out that Lightfoot may have been plotting a run for mayor, a question emerges: Was Lightfoot using her position at the Chicago Police Board president to leverage her political power at the expense of accused police officers?

The police board hearing for Ternand will continue next week.