A white, clouted Chicago Police officer deserved to be fired for appearing in an offensive photograph, holding a black man like a hunting trophy, a Cook County Judge has ruled.
Judge Thomas R. Allen on Wednesday upheld the previous decision of the Chicago Police Board to fire Officer Tim McDermott.
Calling the case “straightforward” and saying it revolved entirely around what even McDermott’s lawyer admitted was “a horribly offensive” photo, he cited Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity.
“I know it when I see it,” Allen said of the shocking photo during his 30-minute ruling.
Believed to have been taken inside a West Side police station sometime between 1999 and 2003, the Polaroid photo shows McDermott and another former Chicago cop, Jerome Finnigan, holding a rifle and crouching over an unidentified black man who is wearing deer antlers.
Though the photo was taken over a decade ago, it was only finally passed to Chicago Police by the FBI in 2013, following Finnigan’s conviction for a series of unrelated offenses relating to home invasions and the kidnappings of drug dealers.
The Chicago Police Board narrowly voted in August by five votes to four to dismiss McDermott, who told them, “I am embarrassed by my participation in this photograph. I made a mistake as a young, impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.”
Former Supt. Phil Cline was among those who spoke up on behalf of McDermott at that hearing, calling McDermott “the type of policeman I wanted working for us” and describing his character as “impeccable.”
But the board found that “appearing to treat an African-American man not as a human being but as a hunted animal is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
Speaking briefly outside court Wednesday, McDermott told reporters he’d keep fighting for his job. “I spent 17 years serving and protecting the citizens of Chicago in every neighborhood — I loved every minute of it,” he said.
His lawyer, Dan Herbert, says McDermott plans to appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court.
The photo should never have been admitted as evidence, Herbert said, adding that McDermott is taking his dismissal and the publication of the photo “like the professional he is.”
Allen in March ordered the photo unsealed, paving the way for its publication. The city had objected to that, arguing it would further demean the unidentified black male.
Though relatives have come forward to WFLD FOX 32 and WLS TV ABC 7, claiming the black man in the photo is their dead relative, the man in the photo has not been definitively identified.
Finnigan and McDermott did not file an arrest report involving the man, according to court records. Finnigan told the FBI the man was arrested with guns and marijuana but didn’t have a serious criminal background and was released without arrest, a law enforcement source said, adding that the photo was taken in “the spur of the moment.”
Following the publication of the photo last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he had two words for McDermott: “Good riddance.”