A white Chicago Police detective was allowed to keep investigating police shootings and homicides for months even though a federal prosecutor had provided the department with a photo of him posing as a hunter who bagged a black man as a trophy.
Former Detective Timothy McDermott is appealing a Cook County judge’s decision to uphold his firing for appearing in the photo, which former police Supt. Garry McCarthy had called “disgusting.”
The photo showed McDermott holding a rifle and squatting over a man with antlers on his head. Also posing in the photo with a rifle was Officer Jerome Finnigan, who is serving a 12-year prison term for corruption.
The U.S. attorney’s office obtained the photo during a criminal investigation of Finnigan and other officers accused of participating in a robbery ring.
In early 2013, a federal prosecutor turned over the Polaroid snapshot to the police Bureau of Internal Affairs. At the time, Finnigan was no longer a police officer, but McDermott was a lead detective on police-involved shootings and homicides on the South Side.
McDermott was not taken off the street and placed on desk duty until January 2014. Three months later, McCarthy asked the Chicago Police Board to fire him for appearing in the photo. The board voted 5-4 to terminate McDermott in October 2014.
McDermott’s attorney said the department’s decision to keep him on the street for almost a year after the photo surfaced shows police officials didn’t originally think he committed a serious offense and thought he was doing a good job.
“It speaks to the fact that the police department recognized that his limited involvement in the decade-old photo was an aberration in an otherwise stellar career,” said Daniel Herbert. “He was clearly still recognized as a competent and trusted investigator.”
But police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department couldn’t take McDermott off the street until the circumstances surrounding the photo were fully investigated.
Guglielmi said the department opened an internal probe in April 2013 after getting the photo from the feds.
“There were parallel investigations that were taking place, and the officer was not pulled off the street until the conclusion of those investigations,” Guglielmi said.
“This department works every day to uphold professional standards and earn public trust,” said Frank Giancamilli, another police spokesman. “In this instance, we found Detective McDermott, and his participation in this reprehensible photo, to have undermined the integrity of this agency, and we stand by his termination.”
In November, Herbert filed an appeal on McDermott’s behalf, seeking to reverse his firing or require the police board to give his client a lesser punishment. McDermott was a victim of “selective enforcement” of department rules, according to the appeal.
The appeal points out that officers who have appeared in other offensive photos were not fired. A hearing officer for the police board erred when he ruled those cases didn’t pertain to McDermott, according to the appeal. The city has until March to respond.
McDermott, who was a United Parcel Service supervisor and a DePaul University cop before joining the Chicago Police Department in 1997, has said he regretted posing in the photo.
In June 2013, he told an internal affairs sergeant, “I wish I could go back and change this split-second decision.”
Still, McDermott told the sergeant that he “very, very vaguely” remembered posing in the photo. He said he couldn’t remember if the photo was taken in a police station; if the black man in the photo was in police custody or under arrest; or if the man was a police employee.
Police said they were unable to identify the man in the photo.
But last year, the Chicago Sun-Times discovered the person wearing the antlers was 17-year-old Michael Spann. McDermott arrested Spann and his uncle on misdemeanor marijuana charges in 2002 in the Harrison District on the West Side, a police report said. Spann was killed in a 2007 drive-by shooting.
Spann’s family has said the officers got the guns shown in the photo after calling Spann’s cousin, who gave them the weapons in exchange for letting him go.