The Chicago Police Board has ruled that officer Brandon Ternand was following department policy when he killed 15-year-old Dakota Bright with a single gunshot to the back of the head. Ternand killed Dakota in 2012.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson had recommended firing Ternand for the shooting. He called it “unlawful and unnecessary.”
The board rejected Johnson’s recommendation by a vote of five to three. It announced the decision at its monthly meeting on Thursday evening.
The decision to find Ternand not guilty of violating police policy comes on the heels of the criminal conviction earlier this month of officer Jason Van Dyke for the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Ternand and his partner were responding to a burglary call in the 6700 block of South Indiana Avenue. The call turned out to be a false alarm, but while they were leaving to head back to the district, Ternand said he saw Dakota walking through an alley holding a gun.
The 15-year-old ran, and Ternand chased him through several lots, each of them hopping fences as they ran.
Then, with two lots between them, Ternand said Dakota turned his head to the right to look back at him, and reached for his left side. Ternand fired one shot from about 50 feet away. It hit the teenager in the back of the head, killing him.
Ternand told the board he believed Dakota was reaching for a gun to shoot him.
A gun was recovered on scene, but it was found about 200 feet away from Dakota’s body, close to the spot where the foot chase began.
In the decision, the police board notes that Ternand is a highly decorated tactical officer, and explains that the majority believes he was in reasonable fear for his life when he shot.
In their dissent, the three members who voted guilty write that Ternand was not a credible witness, and that his version of the shooting is contradicted by the evidence.
Ternand has been a police officer since 2007, he was suspended without pay in November 2017 after the Independent Police Review Authority found the Dakota Bright shooting unjustified. Based on that finding, Supt. Johnson recommended Ternand be fired. That recommendation was then forwarded to the police board, which is made up of civilians, and makes the final decision on serious discipline for officers.
In his 10 years as an officer, Ternand racked up 28 complaints against him, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. None of those complaints, besides the Dakota shooting, were sustained.
The board’s decision means Ternand’s police powers will be restored. It also means he is owed about $80,000 in back pay.
“We have a process in place you know and we’re not going to agree all the time, but my job as superintendent is to honor the process that’s in place,” Johnson said after the meeting.
When asked if he believes the board made the wrong decision, Johnson said “you know what my recommendation was, so of course.”
Patrick Smith is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him @pksmid.