Police Board Delays Hearing On Proposed Laquan McDonald Firings | WBEZ
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Chicago Police Board Delays Hearing On Proposed Laquan McDonald Firings

The Chicago Police Board is once again postponing a trial-like hearing on recommendations to fire four officers accused of covering up for Jason Van Dyke, the cop sent to prison for his 2014 fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

The board had set Tuesday for the start of a three-day evidentiary hearing on whether to dismiss Sgt. Stephen Franko, 48, and three officers on the scene during the shooting: Janet Mondragon, 42, Daphne Sebastian, 49, and Ricardo Viramontes, 45.

Now the board says the hearing, which is open to the public, will take place April 10-12.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has accused all four officers of violating multiple department regulations, including a rule against lying in statements or reports.

Johnson also accused Franko of approving false reports by Van Dyke and Officer Joseph Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner the night of the shooting. Franko has been the sole supervisory employee to face criminal or dismissal charges tied to the McDonald shooting.

Four of 11 recommended for firing

The dismissal cases, sent to the board in 2016, are based on recommendations by Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The four, who deny the charges, were among 11 officers Ferguson recommended for firing. Several, including Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy and Deputy Chief David McNaughton, resigned in 2016.

In 2017, the judge in Van Dyke’s case and a special prosecutor investigating the alleged police coverup both asked the Police Board to put the dismissal cases on hold. The Police Board agreed, saying that going ahead would “prejudice and potentially jeopardize the pending criminal proceedings and the officers’ constitutional rights.”

After that decision, the Police Department said it was ending an unpaid suspension of the four officers but withholding their police powers and assigning them to desk duty.

In December, after the Van Dyke conviction, Police Board hearing officer Thomas Johnson set aside three days this week for the evidentiary hearing.

A board statement blames the latest rescheduling on the addition of new attorneys for the officers and “the amount of time it is taking for the attorneys to receive documents” covered by a gag order issued by Vincent Gaughan, the judge in Van Dyke’s case.

Most recent legal bout over shooting

The dismissal cases are the latest bouts in civil, criminal and administrative litigation that has roiled Chicago since Van Dyke shot McDonald, 17, the night of Oct. 20, 2014.

A police dashcam video, withheld from the public, enabled the teen’s mother and sister to get a $5 million settlement from the city in 2015.

After a Cook County judge ordered the video’s release a few months later, public anger focused on contradictions between that recording and reports by officers that McDonald was attacking Van Dyke and that the teen, after he was shot to the pavement, tried to get back up.

Protests led to a yearlong U.S. Department of Justice investigation that found widespread constitutional abuses by CPD and a lack of accountability for the misconduct. That probe led to a reform plan known as a consent decree that will be overseen and enforced by a federal judge. 

Three police officers, meanwhile, were criminally charged with engaging in a coverup but all were found not guilty by Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson in January.

Van Dyke, convicted last October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, was sentenced by Gaughan in January to 81 months in prison with the possibility of release in about three years.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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