Two off-duty Chicago cops caught on video pummeling an ex-con at 4 a.m. inside a crowded Northwest Side taco joint more than a decade ago remain on the police payroll but have been stripped of their police powers following a state appellate court ruling last week.
The ruling, which overturned a Cook County judge’s decision to bar the city from firing the officers, is the latest example of just how slowly police-discipline cases can move through the Chicago Police Department’s disciplinary process and the courts — an issue the Chicago Sun-Times examined in the 2013 series “Tarnished Badges.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration, responding to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Sun-Times, released security surveillance videos Wednesday of the March 24, 2006, assault at the Taco Burrito King restaurant near Harlem Avenue, Higgins Road and the Kennedy Expressway.
They show Officer Brian D. Murphy, then 24, jumping up from his table with his gun drawn on Obed DeLeon, and ramming DeLeon into a wall.
Officer Jason M. Orsa, then 26, joins Murphy and Murphy’s friend Matthew Walsh, a Marine, in repeatedly punching and kicking DeLeon, then 22, according to the videos and court records.
A third off-duty cop who was eating with them, Daniel McNamara, then 28, appears to be trying to keep others in the restaurant away from the altercation.
At the time, DeLeon, who later filed a complaint with the department, had multiple felony convictions, as well as gang tattoos, court records show.
It took nearly five years for the officers to be investigated and punished — and more than five more years for the ensuing court challenges to play out.
The police department’s now-defunct Office of Professional Standards began investigating DeLeon’s complaint within days and later turned over the case to the Independent Police Review Authority, which replaced OPS.
IPRA finished investigating in October 2009, prompting police Supt. Jody Weis to move to fire Murphy and Orsa in July 2010. The Chicago Police Board agreed with Weis’ decision in January 2011, but Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Pantle overturned it in March 2012, saying, “The videotape and other evidence clearly support Murphy and Orsa and their witnesses’ recollection of events.”
Pantle also criticized the police department for taking so long to investigate, saying the delay made it harder to contact witnesses who might have supported the officers’ claims DeLeon had threatened them.
The three cops and Walsh had been at a bar down the street from Taco Burrito King before arriving there, according to court records, and were eating or getting their food as DeLeon walked in.
The video doesn’t have sound. The police officers and Walsh said DeLeon yelled “cobra love,” a reference to the Spanish Cobras street gang, and said he was a “cop killer” ready to “cap someone,” according to the records.
In sworn testimony supported by two restaurant patrons, DeLeon said he never threatened the cops but just walked in complaining about whoever left a car blocking the entrance to the restaurant’s parking lot.
“What if I’m that a—–e?” Orsa replied, according to the court ruling.
In seconds, Murphy jumps up, and the scuffle is on.
Afterward, Murphy, Orsa and McNamara left without talking to responding police officers, according to court records.
Ruling Aug. 9, the Illinois Appellate Court rejected what the three cops told internal police investigators and the police board.
“Our careful and close review of the video leaves us puzzled by the circuit court’s rejection of the board’s . . . true and correct findings,” Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote. “We cannot ignore an even more troubling aspect of this case — the inherently improbable character of the officers’ defense, which largely relied on stirring prejudices by suggesting that DeLeon’s conduct was gang-related.”
The police board fired Murphy and Orsa, whose father was a cop, in 2011. McNamara — whose father also was a cop, as is his brother — got an 18-month suspension because the city was unable to prove he punched or kicked DeLeon, according to last week’s ruling. McNamara has served that suspension.
An officer who responded to the restaurant, Sgt. Louis Danielson, got a 180-day suspension for conducting an insufficient investigation that resulted in the two bystanders being arrested — charges that were dropped. One of the bystanders told the police board he heard Danielson, say, “Put this gangbanger in the paddy wagon,” referring to DeLeon, and “arrest these two for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Danielson’s suspension was overturned by Pantle, and he was reimbursed for lost pay. City officials did not appeal that part of Pantle’s ruling, only her findings regarding Murphy and Orsa.
Neither Murphy and Orsa nor their attorneys could be reached Wednesday.
TARNISHED BADGES — A SUN-TIMES WATCHDOGS INVESTIGATION