Judge upholds Chicago police board's firing of officer in racially charged photo

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Officer's firing upheld over racially charged photo
A judge has upheld the Chicago Police Board's firing of Timothy McDermott.

CHICAGO -- A judge has upheld the Chicago Police Board's firing of Timothy McDermott, one of two officers who posed for a racially charged photo that features two white officers with rifles holding an African-American man wearing deer antlers.

"The photograph is the case," Judge Tom Allen said. "There's nothing else. Plain and simple."

The picture was taken at least a decade ago, and both men are no longer cops. One is in federal prison on unrelated charges, and the other was fired for appearing in the photo. In making the termination decision, the Chicago Police Board determined the photo showed police officers "appearing to treat an African-American male not as a human being but as a hunted animal."

After the court hearing on Wednesday, former officer McDermott told reporters, "I spent 17 years serving and protecting the citizens of Chicago in every neighborhood. I loved every minute of it. I am fully prepared to continue this fight for my job."

McDermott's attorney Daniel Herbert unsuccessfully argued that since the police board never determined the identity of the African-American man in the photo, whether or not he was a willing participant could not be determined.

"As far as I'm concerned for that officer, good riddance. You don't belong in the police department," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said of the police officers seen in the photo in May.

The FBI uncovered the photo during its investigation of the former officer on the left, Jerome Finnigan. He was convicted of leading a crew of rogue cops who shook down drug dealers and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. Finnigan was also convicted of plotting to kill another police officer.

The other special operations officer in the photo McDermott, a decorated detective who told the police board he only "very, very vaguely" remembered posing for the picture.

"I remember walking through (the police station) and someone saying 'Hey, Timmie, take a picture,'" McDermott said.

For years, Michael Smith says his son told a story of being brought in on a drug charge and forced to pose for a humiliating photo.

"I saw the picture and I was like, 'This is my son!'" Smith said. "When they were talking that it was an unidentified young man in the picture, I had to come forward and say something. That kid was loved."

Smith says the experience made his son, Michael Spann, terrified of the police until they day he died in 2007 in a drive-by shooting.

"My son would have never done anything like that if he wasn't terrified," Smith said.

While the photo is at least a dozen years old, what it symbolizes makes news almost every day: mistrust of the police.

"I think justice is prevailing itself because one officer is in the penitentiary and the other has been fired," Smith said.

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