Chicago, IL – A Chicago police sergeant and three fellow officers have been fired for allegedly trying to cover up for now-former Officer Jason Van Dyke after he fatally shot a PCP-fueled teen armed with a knife in 2014.
In January, Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison for second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the fatal shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Three of Van Dyke’s fellow officers were criminally charged for allegedly falsifying police records in efforts to cover for Van Dyke, but a judge ultimately found them not guilty, CNN reported.
In the verdict, the judge found that not only was their no indication that the officers made no attempt to cover up evidence, but “the evidence shows just the opposite,” because the officers preserved evidence which ultimately led to Officer Van Dyke’s conviction.
The civilian-comprised Chicago Police Board made the decision to fire four different officers on Thursday night after carefully picking apart details of their reports for anything which could be inaccurate, WBBM reported.
There wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges against any of the officers, according to NBC News.
Chicago Police Sergeant Stephen Franko was accused of approving the three officers’ reports about what occurred that night, even though they allegedly contained “misleading and false” information, according to WBBM.
At least one of the reports he approved falsely indicated that Officer Van Dyke was injured by McDonald during the encounter, NBC News reported.
According to the board, Officer Janet Mondragon, Officer Ricardo Viramontes, and Officer Daphne Sabastian all “depict[ed] a scene in which Mr. McDonald was the aggressor and Officer Van Dyke the victim – a depiction squarely contradicted by reality,” CNN reported.
“Put simply, the officers wanted to help their fellow officer [Jason Van Dyke] and so described the incident in a way to put him in the best possible light,” the board alleged.
The board found that the three officers “failed in their duty – either by outright lying or by shading the truth,” WBBM reported.
“All three patrol officers violated that duty by describing the alleged threat posed by Mr. McDonald in an exaggerated way, while omitting relevant facts that support the opposite conclusion,” the board ruled.
According to the board, Officer Viramontes told a detective that McDonald was still holding a knife and tried to get up and move after he was shot, but video footage from the scene contradicted his account, NBC News reported.
Officer Mondragon told investigators she was putting her patrol vehicle into park when the shooting occurred, and said she hadn’t seen what had happened, the board said.
The board ruled that she was lying because video footage showed her patrol vehicle in motion during the first four seconds of the officer-involved shooting.
Officer Sabastian was fired for allegedly failing to explain the “precise” timing of the events she witnessed when the shooting occurred, including failing to note that McDonald was walking away from some of the officers at the time.
The civilian board voted unanimously to fire Sgt. Franko, Officer Mondragon, and Officer Viramontes, and voted 8-1 to fire Officer Sebastian.
The board’s decision went into effect immediately, but the now-former sergeant and officers have the right to appeal the matter in Cook County Circuit Court.
“The department is bound by the decision of the board,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Thomas Ahern told ABC News on Thursday night. “The affected members have further options they may exercise if they so choose.”
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Second Vice President Martin Preib blasted the civilian board’s decision, and said it would “no doubt lead to more violence in the city and quite likely more violence against the police,” ABC News reported.
“These officers served the citizens of this city with courage, integrity, and adherence to the rule of law,” Preib said. “Too bad you couldn’t do the same.”
The fatal shooting occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police responded to a report of a teenager breaking into vehicles in the 4000-block of South Karlov Avenue, Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden told WLS at the time.
The suspect, later identified as McDonald, slashed the front passenger tire of a patrol SUV, damaged the vehicle’s windshield, and took off on foot, police said.
Officers intercepted the armed suspect in the 4100-block of South Pulaski Road and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused.
According to the Chicago Tribune, police said McDonald was under the influence of PCP at the time of the incident.
During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, said that the incident was “a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
Herbert then dropped the knife McDonald had been carrying that night onto the courtroom floor.
“At any point throughout that 20-something minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped the knife, he’d be here today,” Herbert declared.
Dashcam footage showed McDonald as he jogged down the middle of the roadway towards a police cruiser.
He then walked around the first patrol car and veered into the traffic lane, as officers moved towards his left side, the video showed.
During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Walsh, reenacted how McDonald swung the three-inch blade behind his back and up to shoulder-height just before he was shot, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The dashcam video also did not show how events unfolded from Officer Van Dyke’s perspective, and should not be the only piece of evidence utilized to understand what occurred, his attorney noted.
But Officer Walsh was in close proximity to Officer Van Dyke during the incident, and testified that McDonald posed a risk to their safety and that they had a reason to be afraid, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“At 9:57:36, McDonald has crossed over the white lane divider away from the officers, and Officer Van Dyke has taken at least one step towards McDonald with his weapon drawn,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in November of 2015, after Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, according to WLS.
“[Officer Van Dyke] then opened fire on Laquan, whose arm jerks, his body spins around and he falls to the ground,” Alvarez said. “While Laquan is falling to the ground the defendant takes at least one more step towards him.”
At that point, the patrol car where the dashcam was mounted moved to the right, cutting Officer Van Dyke out of the frame.
“Two seconds later, Laquan McDonald is lying on the street on his right side, and the video captures what appears to be two puffs of smoke coming from the ground near his body,” Alvarez said, according to WLS. “These puffs of smoke were later identified as clouds of debris caused by the fired bullets.”
“At 9:57:51, McDonald is still lying on the street and the last visible shot is fired,” she said.
According to prosecutors, Officer Van Dyke was beginning to load another magazine into his duty weapon – as he was trained to do – when his partner told him to cease fire.
The second officer then walked toward McDonald, and kicked his knife out of reach.
An autopsy revealed that McDonald was shot in the back of his arms, his right leg, and multiple times in the chest, WLS reported.
He was shot 16 times, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“Of the eight officers on the scene, it was only the defendant who fired his weapon,” Alvarez said. “[Officer Van Dyke acted] without legal justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm” when he fired the fatal rounds.
Herbert argued that his client was forced to make a “split-second” decision in a dangerous, fluid situation.
“The judgement made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa, it’s not the same standard as the perspective from my client,” Herbert told WLS. “People viewing this video tape will have the brilliance and benefits of hindsight, 20/20 vision.”
Prosecutors argued that Officer Van Dyke should have used less-lethal means to stop the armed teen, and said he could have waited for another officer to arrive with a Taser or used his vehicle to gently tap him, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Van Dyke was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery and second-degree murder on Oct. 5, 2018.
McDonald was on probation and was a ward of the state at the time of his death, according to WLS.
In April of 2015, the Chicago City Council awarded a $5 million settlement to McDonald’s family, the Associated Press reported.