Police board to mull delaying disciplinary cases in Laquan McDonald shooting

The Chicago Police Board on Monday plans to discuss whether to delay disciplinary proceedings for five police officers facing firing for their roles in the Laquan McDonald shooting investigation, a move that could eventually allow some of the officers to return to the police payroll.

The five cops, including Officer Jason Van Dyke, are accused of trying to cover up the investigation by making and approving statements in police reports that were contradicted by video footage of the shooting.

On Monday afternoon, the police board could decide if the disciplinary case will be delayed until Van Dyke's criminal trial is over. Van Dyke has been suspended without pay since November 2015, when he was charged with murder for killing the 17-year-old McDonald, shooting him 16 times.

Lawyers on both sides of the criminal case have filed motions to the police board requesting the disciplinary proceedings be delayed. They've argued that statements Van Dyke and the other officers were required to make during the investigation may be used as evidence that could adversely impact Van Dyke's criminal trial. Under a decades-old legal standard, statements that government employees are forced to give under threat of being fired cannot be used against them in criminal proceedings.

Meanwhile, the other four officers — Daphne Sebastian, Janet Mondragon, Ricardo Viramontes and Sgt. Stephen Franko — have been suspended without pay since last summer, when the Police Department moved to fire them.

Their lawyers have argued they should be entitled to return to work and get paid if the police board delays the disciplinary hearings. Van Dyke, meanwhile, would remain in his no-pay status because of his criminal case.

All the officers' lawyers declined to comment for this story.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said in an email Friday that Superintendent Eddie Johnson has "no intentions of returning these officers to the street."

Guglielmi couldn't say whether they would be allowed to return to work and assigned only to paid desk duty. That's something that often happens with cops whose cases are going before the police board.

"As a party to this process, it is inappropriate for CPD to comment or speculate on any actions before the police board," Guglielmi said.

Chicago police officers accused of criminal wrongdoing are not typically brought up before the police board on disciplinary charges until their court cases are over with. The Van Dyke case has been an exception.

Legal experts say that in cases where police officers are facing jail time and firing at the same time, it can be problematic if evidence is presented during a disciplinary hearing before there's a criminal trial.

"Neither side wants their witnesses cross-examined before the criminal case," said Robert Loeb, a veteran Chicago criminal defense lawyer.

In the McDonald case, disciplinary charges before the police board focus largely on alleged dishonesty but vary on specifics among Sebastian, Mondragon, Viramontes and Franko. All are alleged, though, to have violated Rule 14, which bars them from making false reports.

Van Dyke stated in reports that he fired his weapon in fear for his life when McDonald advanced on him with a knife. On the video, however, Van Dyke can be seen jumping from his car and opening fire within seconds as McDonald appears to walk away from him.

Sebastian and Mondragon reported that Van Dyke and his partner, Joseph Walsh, repeatedly ordered McDonald to drop the knife. The teen ignored them as he waved a blade while approaching the two officers, according to what Sebastian and Mondragon stated in police reports.

Viramontes stated that McDonald turned toward Van Dyke and Walsh after Van Dyke told the teen to drop the knife. After Van Dyke shot McDonald, the teen fell to the street but continued to move, trying to get back up with the knife, according to Viramontes' account in the reports.

The department charged Franko with, among other things, signing off on Van Dyke's allegedly false reports on the incident.

The fatal shooting of McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014, has driven political upheaval and changes to policing in Chicago.

A Cook County judge forced the video's release in November 2015. Murder charges against Van Dyke, the firing of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, a wave of street protests and a sweeping probe by the U.S. Justice Department into the city's police practices followed.

Justice Department officials, during President Barack Obama's final days in office, concluded that Chicago police routinely violated the civil rights of citizens, particularly in minority communities, and that its officers were poorly trained with inadequate supervision.

The conduct of the officers who face potential firing is also under scrutiny from a special Cook County prosecutor appointed to determine whether their actions warrant further criminal charges. The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago had also been investigating the shooting.

Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's investigators recommended the firings of the five officers and the dismissal of six others, including two high-ranking police officials who worked under Superintendent Johnson.

The two officials — Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy and Deputy Chief David McNaughton — retired from the department. Three other officers — Walsh; David March, the lead detective on the case; and his direct supervisor, Sgt. Daniel Gallagher — also left the department before facing department discipline.

The superintendent opted not to bring department charges against the 11th officer that Ferguson's office recommended for firing.

jgorner@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @JeremyGorner

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