A Cook County judge has refused to keep secret the shocking image of former Officers Timothy McDermott and Jerome Finnigan kneeling with what the police department says is an unidentified African-American drug suspect.
Believed to have been taken in a West Side police station between 1999 and 2003, the Polaroid photo was given to the city by the feds in 2013 and resulted in McDermott, a clout-heavy cop, being fired last year by the police board in a 5-to-4 vote. The four dissenters said McDermott should only have been suspended. But a majority of the board wrote that “appearing to treat an African-American man not as a human being but as a hunted animal is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
McDermott, who has been driving a truck to support his family, is now appealing his dismissal in court.
Even though police Supt. Garry McCarthy moved to fire McDermott, attorneys for the police department and McDermott both asked Judge Thomas Allen to keep the photo under seal earlier this year.
They said they wanted to protect the privacy of the unidentified African-American man. Allen denied their request in March. The Sun-Times recently obtained a copy of the photo in the court file.
Federal prosecutors gave the photo to police investigators in 2013 about two years after Finnigan — the notorious other cop in the picture — was sentenced to 12 years in prison for leading a crew of rogue cops in robberies, home invasions and other crimes.
The photo comes to light as conflicts in recent months between white police officers and black suspects have gained national attention and sparked national protests, and as McCarthy himself has started a listening tour throughout Chicago to improve the frayed relations between police and the black and Hispanic communities. Separately, the police board has come under scrutiny as aldermen have called for new members on a panel whose longtime chairman continues to serve, despite his term expiring in August 2014.
McCarthy said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times that the photo “is disgusting, and the despicable actions of these two former officers have no place in our police department or in our society. As the superintendent of this department, and as a resident of our city, I will not tolerate this kind of behavior, and that is why neither of these officers works for CPD today. I fired one of the officers and would have fired the other if he hadn’t already been fired by the time I found out about the picture. Our residents deserve better than this, as do the thousands of good men and women in this department.”
Finnigan and McDermott worked together in the Special Operations Section. But McDermott was not accused of criminal wrongdoing in a scandal involving the unit that led to it being disbanded in 2007 — and Finnigan and other officers being convicted of crimes.
Police investigators believe Finnigan and McDermott posed in the photo while McDermott was assigned to SOS between 1999 and 2003, when he became a detective, according to court records in McDermott’s case.
When the feds confronted Finnigan with the photo, he told them he and McDermott arrested the African-American man for having “20 bags of weed” and the man provided them with the rifles, according to court records. The photo was taken in the tactical office of the Harrison Police District on the West Side, Finnigan said.
But the police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs says it was unable to identify the African-American man in the photo.
Finnigan and McDermott did not file an arrest report involving the man, according to court records.
Finnigan told the FBI the man didn’t have a serious criminal background so they let him go without arresting him, a law enforcement source said, adding that the photo was taken in “the spur of the moment.”
The person who took the photo hasn’t been identified, either.