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In this still image taken from a police vehicle’s dashboard camera, Laquan McDonald walks up a street just prior to being shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. | Chicago Police Department, distributed by Getty Images

Cop denies dozens of texts with Van Dyke affected her story of McDonald shooting

SHARE Cop denies dozens of texts with Van Dyke affected her story of McDonald shooting
SHARE Cop denies dozens of texts with Van Dyke affected her story of McDonald shooting

A Chicago cop who sometimes texted Jason Van Dyke dozens of times a day said their relationship didn’t influence what she told investigators about the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Officer Janet Mondragon was on the scene in October 2014 when Van Dyke shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times. Mondragon told investigators she didn’t see Van Dyke shoot the teen because she was looking down, shifting her squad car’s transmission into park.

Mondragon denied the text exchanges — as many as 70 a day between the two in the weeks before the shooting — indicated a friendship that would affect statements she made to investigators.

“No,” she said simply, when asked if a friendship with Van Dyke affected her judgement.

Mondragon testified about the texts Thursday at a Chicago Police Board hearing, one of several this week to determine if she and three other cops accused of making or approving false statements about the shooting should be fired.

John Gibbons, the attorney representing CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, disagreed when Mondragon said she did not socialize with Van Dyke outside work.

“That’s not true, is it? You were socializing with Van Dyke almost every day in the weeks prior to the shooting … texting each other numerous times a day,” he said, noting the exchanges, captured in 1,300 pages of her cell phone records, had been entered into evidence.

Mondragon said the term “co-workers” accurately reflected the nature of their interactions.

She also emphasized that the real-time commotion of the 2014 Southwest Side shooting was not something accurately reflected in a slow-motion video of the event that was played at the hearing.

“I probably flinched a little bit. It all happened so fast … next thing I know I put the car in park and that was it,” said Mondragon.

The dashboard-mounted camera in her squad car captured footage of the shooting in the 4100 block of South Pulaski Road that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

“Why in the world would she lie about something like that?” Mondragon’s attorney, William Fahy, asked in opening statements Wednesday — asserting his client was momentarily paying attention to the gear shift.

The fact that Van Dyke pulled the trigger was never in dispute. “It was no whodunnit,” Fahy said.

Mondragon saw Van Dyke and his partner, Joseph Walsh, draw their guns in the moments before the shooting but only heard the shots because she was shifting gears — a process that could have taken two or three seconds, she said.

She told investigators she knew the shots came from one of the two men, she just didn’t know which, Mondragon said.

Gibbons said Mondragon was lying about putting the car in park because the video shows her squad car still moving when the shooting happens.

The Police Board will not rule on the cases for another few months. The officers are assigned to desk duty, stripped of their police powers.

Mondragon, who worked as a Cook County correctional officer before joining the police department, said Thursday that one of her sons is a Chicago cop and another is about to enter the Chicago Police Academy.

The jobs of Sgt. Stephen Franko and officers Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes also hang in the balance at this week’s 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 Officer Jason 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.

In a separate trial three months ago, a Cook County judge acquitted three other Chicago cops accused of taking part in a cover-up. In that case, CPD Det. David March, Thomas Gaffney and Van Dyke’s partner, Walsh, faced charges of conspiracy, obstructing justice and official misconduct.

This week’s hearings stem from administrative charges filed by the CPD in August 2016 with the Police Board; the board decided to hold off on deciding the fate of the four officers’ careers until after the conclusion of both trials.

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