I felt sorry for Chicago police officer Dora Fontaine.
There she was in the courtroom, squaring off against three Chicago police officers on trial for conspiring to cover up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.
David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh, all current or former Chicago cops, are accused of falsifying police reports to make it appear the shooting was justified.
It would have been easier for Fontaine to go along to get along. After all, what did she have to gain by speaking up when her colleagues were willing to let the false narrative stand?
Certainly not respect.
During her testimony, March’s defense lawyer, James McKay, tried his best to make Fontaine look like a lazy cop.
He noted with disdain that she and her partner started their shift by stopping at a Dunkin’ Donuts.
He pointed out that Fontaine turned down the police radio when she made a personal phone call while her partner went to get a cup of coffee.
He insinuated that the officer was lucky to have a good-paying city job with benefits, and he suggested that had she been fired in the aftermath of the McDonald shooting, she wouldn’t have been able to find another job.
Whenever McKay said, “And by the way” — and he must have said that a dozen times — he smacked Fontaine with another insult designed to humiliate her.
I can’t imagine McKay would have been as ferocious in his efforts to discredit Fontaine had this been a jury trial instead of a bench trial.
But the 17-year police veteran didn’t back down.
“It was a lie,” Fontaine said, referring to a statement that McDonald “raised his arm as if attacking Officer Jason Van Dyke” before the officer fatally shot the teenager 16 times.
Defense attorneys suggested that Fontaine raised objections about the way the report was handled by March because she was trying to save her job.
But accusations that police officers engaged in a cover-up aren’t uncommon.
In St. Louis, for instance, three cops were indicted Thursday, accused of beating an undercover colleague during a 2017 protest. A fourth officer was charged with conspiring to cover it up.
Due to the extraordinary work of investigative reporter Jamie Kalven, the code of silence surrounding the McDonald shooting cracked.
Also, the incredible number of bullets that Van Dyke pumped into McDonald, who was armed with a knife, made it impossible to accept the police narrative.
After Fontaine objected to what she said was a false statement in the police report and talked to law enforcement agencies investigating McDonald’s death, she was ostracized by her supervisors and others in the police department, according to her testimony.
“They asked me if it would be better [for me] to come in” and work a desk, she testified. “Other officers were calling me a rat, a snitch and a traitor and saying that they wouldn’t back me up.”
While investigators were investigating the cover-up, they should have also tried to identify the officers who made the threats.
Those officers should be booted out of the Chicago Police Department.
As I watched the grueling cross-examination of Fontaine, I thought of another female Chicago police officer who dared to complain about bad behavior on the part of a fellow cop.
Former Officer Laura Kubiak, a 29-year veteran and a former spokeswoman for the department, filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago in 2014, saying she was reassigned to the night shift in a dangerous neighborhood after she reported being assaulted by another officer.
The violent confrontation was over a “work-related report” that Kubiak had drafted.
“He screamed, ‘Who the f— do you think you are, you stupid b—-?’ He shook his finger in Kubiak’s face and swung his hand back as if to strike her, and she backed away in fear,” according to an appeal filed in the case.
Another officer who stood up for Kubiak also was transferred out of the police Office of News Affairs and put back on street patrol.
Kubiak has retired. She is still fighting in court.
And four years after the McDonald shooting, Fontaine is still on desk duty.
“It is a safety issue for me” she said. “If I am on the street and I’m on a call, I wouldn’t know who to trust or if anybody would come and help me.”
Anyone who has seen the video of the infamous police shooting knows it does not show McDonald lunging at Van Dyke, let alone trying to attack the three police officers who are on trial.
And threats and insults aren’t going to change that.