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Mother of teen shot dead by Chicago police vows to fight on after cop keeps job

Dakota Bright

Dakota Bright | Provided photo

Less than 24 hours after the Chicago Police Board ruled that the officer who fatally shot her son will keep his job, Panzy Edwards — mother of Dakota Bright — vowed that her fight was not over.

“I’m trying to find a way right now to figure out how can I get this decision overturned,” Edwards said Friday.

The Chicago Police Board ruled Thursday that CPD Officer Brandon Ternand, who fatally shot 15-year-old Bright in 2012, will keep his job in the department.

The majority of the board found Thursday that Ternand was not guilty of violating three charges brought against him by CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson, who recommended Ternand be fired.

Edwards said she did not know the board would announce its decision Thursday and she was not at the meeting. When she heard the news, she said, she “just broke down. I started crying.”

She said her first thought was: “My baby died in vain. He’s not going to get no justice.”

Edwards said that in the hours since the decision was announced, she has reached out to a local activist — whom she declined to name — in the hope that she’d get help in reversing the board’s decision.

In their ruling, the board noted that Ternand’s testimony was credible and they believed he was in reasonable fear of his life when he shot Bright in the back of the head on Nov. 8, 2012, in the 6700 block of South Indiana.

Officers were in the area responding to a call of a burglary that turned out to be unfounded. The Robeson High School freshman was on his way to his grandmother’s house when he was shot by Ternand, who said he saw Bright with a gun.

“The Board found the testimony of [Ternand] to be credible and persuasive that before he shot Mr. Bright, he observed Mr. Bright turn around, look at him, and reach for his left side, which gave rise to [Ternand’s] reasonable fear for his safety and life in that he believed that Mr. Bright was reaching for the gun of which officers had previously seen him in possession and was going to shoot him,” the board wrote.

The police board noted that Ternand’s credibility “was bolstered” because he had worked as a tactical officer for five years before the shooting and was “highly decorated, and that his reputation for honesty was established by his character witnesses.”

Panzy Edwards stands in front of the address where her 15-year-old son, Dakota Bright, was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer in 2012. | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

In June 2016, the city agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Bright’s family for $925,000..

Last year, Independent Police Review Authority — the former police oversight agency — concluded that the shooting of Bright was “unprovoked and unwarranted.”

IPRA said Ternand “used an unreasonable and excessive amount of force when he shot [Bright].”

Ternand said he saw him holding a black handgun. The teen was trying to stick the gun in his waistband before running off, the officer told IPRA.

Several officers chased after Bright, ordering him to stop and drop the gun, but the teen kept running, jumping fences into at least one nearby backyard, according to IPRA’s report.

Bright turned back to look at police while trying to reach for his waistband when he was shot, the officer told IPRA. A weapon was recovered nearby, but not on Bright himself, IPRA noted.

The backyard where Dakota Bright was fatally shot by a Chicago Police officer on November 8, 2012. | Tom Schuba/Sun-Times

IPRA said that since Bright didn’t have a gun on him, it was “unlikely” that he would have made a gesture to suggest otherwise.

“How can you overturn IPRA’s decision on this being unjustified?” Edwards said. “That’s not right. That’s not right.”

Three other officers at the scene of the shooting said they saw the teen holding his side while running away — something often done by those who are running and do not want to drop a firearm.

Bright was shot once in the back of the head.

Citing detective files it had reviewed, IPRA noted that there were at least five photos on Bright’s Facebook page of the teen posing with a handgun.

IPRA, though, cast doubt on the legitimacy of the other officers’ accounts, saying they had ample time to collude.

“These officers were not only colleagues who frequently worked together, they were friends that socialized together,” IPRA wrote.

Johnson recommended the Chicago Police Board fire Ternand for three CPD rule violations: Disobedience of an order or directive; unlawful or unnecessary use or display of a weapon; and committing “any action or conduct which impedes the Department’s efforts to achieve its policy and goals or brings discredit upon the Department.”