Police Board Finally To Begin Hearing Evidence Of Alleged Cover-Up For Van Dyke
More than four years after Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 rounds into teenager Laquan McDonald, the city’s Police Board is set to begin a trial-like proceeding before deciding whether to fire four officers accused of lying about the killing.
The evidentiary hearing, open to the public, is scheduled to start Wednesday and continue for the rest of the week. The officers who face dismissal are Sgt. Stephen Franko, 48, and Officers Janet Mondragon, 42, Daphne Sebastian, 50, and Ricardo Viramontes, 46.
Mondragon, Sebastian and Viramontes were on the scene during the shooting. Franko arrived later.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused all four officers of violating multiple department regulations, including a rule against false statements and reports.
Johnson also accused Franko of approving false reports by Van Dyke and his patrol partner that night, Joseph Walsh. Franko is the sole police supervisor to face charges, either criminal or administrative, tied to the McDonald shooting.
An attorney for Viramontes declined to comment.
Calls to attorneys for the other officers were not immediately returned.
The dismissal cases stem from an investigation by Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office. Ferguson recommended that 11 officers be fired. That led to resignations by several officers before they could face discipline. The officers who resigned included Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy and Deputy Chief David McNaughton, the highest-ranking department members on the scene after the shooting.
In 2017, the judge in Van Dyke’s case and a special prosecutor investigating the alleged police cover-up both asked the Police Board to put the dismissal cases on hold. The board agreed, saying that going ahead would “prejudice and potentially jeopardize the pending criminal proceedings and the officers’ constitutional rights.”
That decision led the Police Department to end unpaid suspensions of the four officers. The department withheld their police powers and assigned them to desk duty.
Police Board hearing officer Thomas Johnson will oversee the proceedings, which start Wednesday morning, and eventually bring a report to the board’s nine members, all appointed by the city’s mayor. In a closed-door meeting, the board will deliberate and vote on whether to dismiss the officers. That decision can be challenged in Cook County circuit court.
The dismissal cases are the latest rounds 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.
Later that year, a Cook County judge ordered the city to release the video. Much of the public anger that followed 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.
The 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.
Apart from the four officers who face dismissal, another department member and two former members were criminally charged with engaging in a coverup but all were found not guilty by Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson in January.
A Cook County jury in October convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. Judge Vincent Gaughan in January sentenced him to 81 months in prison with the possibility of release in half that time. Van Dyke is scheduled for release in February 2022.