Four Chicago Police officers who face firing in connection with the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald will be back on the city payroll, at least until the conclusion of officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial.
The Chicago Police Board, which hands out discipline in cases of alleged officer misconduct, voted on Monday to put a stay on the officers’ hearings, saying that evidence used against the officers in their police board hearings would jeopardize the admissibility of evidence in Van Dyke’s trial.
“Given the importance of the criminal cases involving Mr. McDonald to our city, and the need to determine if criminal liability is appropriate, it would be a disservice to all (Mr. McDonald, his family, the citizens of Chicago, and the officers) to go forward with the Police Board discharge cases at this time,” a memo issued by the board said.
Sgt. Stephen Franko and officers Daphne Sebastian, Janet Mondragon and Ricardo Viramontes had been suspended without pay since last August, when CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson moved to fire them for allegedly lying about the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old McDonald.
“I have no intention of changing my original recommendation to the Chicago Police Board to terminate the officers,” Johnson said in a statement. “However, today’s ruling by the Police Board leaves me no choice but to reinstate the officers to a paid status.
“While legally the ruling leaves us with no other short term options, the officers’ police powers will remain suspended and they will not return to the street,” Johnson said.
Fraternal Order of Police president Kevin Graham said that it was only fair to allow the officers to work and earn paychecks as the disciplinary process drags on indefinitely.
“We believe that the department should not have suspended these officers and that doing so did violate their rights,” Graham said.
A hold on the disciplinary process was requested by all sides of the case: Van Dyke’s attorney, the judge presiding over his criminal case, and the special prosecutor investigating possible wrongdoing by other authorities at the scene of the shooting.
They cited legal precedent that prohibits statements made by government employees during internal investigations from being used in criminal proceedings. Officers can be fired for not answering questions from internal investigators.
The officers are accused of signing reports that said McDonald, holding a knife, was walking toward officers when Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times in 2014. Police dashcam footage released more than a year after the shooting showed McDonald walking away from the officers, spurring nationwide protests and a federal investigation of the police department.
Van Dyke isn’t seeking reinstatement and remains suspended without pay.