The third and final day in the Chicago Police Board hearings for four officers accused of lying to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald focused heavily on the idea of perception versus reality.
Attorneys for the Chicago Police Department — which is seeking to have the four fired — argued that Sgt. Stephen Franko and officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes gave or approved knowingly false statements in an effort to have the shooting deemed justified.
Attorneys for the four, meanwhile, maintained that they merely told investigators what they believed to be true in the immediate aftermath of the now infamous shooting by former Officer Jason Van Dyke.
“Just because one person perceives something and another person perceives it differently doesn’t make it a lie,” Sebastian’s attorney, Brian Sexton, said during his closing statement. “It’s human nature. It happens all the time.”
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Tiffany Fordyce, one of the attorneys representing CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson — who brought the charges against the four in August 2016 — argued that the four made an effort to cover for a colleague.
“They got caught trying to shield a fellow 8th District police officer, plain and simple,” Fordyce said, adding that the statements the officers gave and approved “were made to give Van Dyke cover for an unlawful shooting.”
William Fahy, Mondragon’s attorney, said that, if his client was truly trying to “shield” Van Dyke, her efforts fell well short of her goal.
“If she wanted to help Jason Van Dyke, all she had to do was say, ‘Yeah, I saw Laquan McDonald with that knife turn toward Jason Van Dyke and he was a threat, he looked like he was going to stab him, and Jason Van Dyke had to shoot him to defend himself and his partner Joe Walsh.’ That would’ve helped,” Fahy said.
The charges brought against the four, Fahy said, were “arbitrary.”
“At best, they’re just petty,” he said. “And they’re pathetic.”
John Gibbons, another attorney for Johnson, said he wasn’t suggesting the four conspired together, but stressed that the officers’ choices of words in their reports and statements were of critical importance.
“They made individual choices that night,” Gibbons said. “And that individual choice — to help a colleague who might be getting looked at for firing his weapon 16 times — was a wrong choice.”
The board will deliberate in May. The first board meeting where a decision could be handed down will be June 20.
All four officers have been stripped of their police powers and assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of the hearings.
Though none of the four officers were criminally charged, the latest fallout from the McDonald shooting comes on the heels of back-to-back historic criminal trials that stemmed from the teenager’s death.
The first of those two trials ended in October with Van Dyke — who shot McDonald 16 times — convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
Van Dyke was sentenced to 6 years and 9 months in prison.