Judge’s Ruling Should Mean Stripped Officers Are Returned to Duty
With Circuit Court Judge Domenica Stephenson declaring that Laquan McDonald was in fact an armed assailant, three officers criminally charged in the 2014 fatal McDonald shooting were acquitted of all charges on Thursday.
“It is clear from the testimony in this case that an officer could reasonably believe that an attack was imminent based upon McDonald’s actions. Only the officers involved in the incident know what their belief was at the time of the incident. We cannot now view the actions of the officers with the benefit of hindsight as to what they should have believed,” Stephenson declared in acquitting the three officers.
Not only did Stephenson find that McDonald was an armed assailant, but she rejected every claim by special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes that Detective David March, Officer Thomas Gaffney, and former officer Joseph Walsh conspired to cover up the shooting.
In response to the verdict, the FOP immediately demanded that three other officers—Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian, and Ricardo Viramontes, currently stripped of their police powers and facing the loss of their jobs in connection with the incident—be reinstated:
The FOP now calls on the Chicago Police Board to consider this ruling in light of the case against three officers who also responded to this shooting and are in danger of losing their jobs. These officers also did nothing wrong in this shooting. The police board should show the same courage as Judge Stephenson and return them to duty.
In 2016 Superintendent Eddie Johnson moved to fire Mondragon, Sebastian, and Viramontes in the wake of an investigation by the city’s inspector general. They were accused of making “false, misleading, inaccurate, and/or inconsistent statements.”
The police board is set to hear arguments as to whether they will get to keep their jobs.
But Judge Stephenson’s ruling poses several problems in trying to fire the officers.
First, is the obvious question: If the three officers in the criminal trial were acquitted of any wrongdoing, what then could these three other officers be disciplined for? If misconduct could not be proven that March, Gaffney, or Walsh conspired to gin up a false case, what remains against these three other officers?
Consider this. These three officers are before the police board for telling former detective March what they saw that night. March is now acquitted. The superintendent charged the officers with lying about what they saw, based solely on the video of the shooting.
But Stephenson, in acquitting March, Walsh, and Gaffney, specifically rejected this line of argument that was embraced by prosecutors, who repeatedly compared what was in the police reports to what the police dashcam video showed. Stephenson said the case wasn’t as simple as that. The judge noted that two people can view the same event and describe it differently, but that doesn’t mean either is lying or committing any misconduct. This ruling by the judge, therefore, completely rejects the superintendent’s theory and the basis of the police board charges.
The absurdity of the charges against the officers facing the police board boils down to this: the superintendent charged two officers, Mondragon and Sebastian, the officers who captured the video that the sup is now using against them.
As with so many cases alleging police misconduct, the mob mentality against the police that took shape against the officers involved in this case in the media receded in the wake of evidence and testimony at trial. It’s time the city moved past this mob mentality against the police officers involved in the Laquan McDonald matter.
The city should dismiss these politically motivated charges now that the real facts are clear.