Chicago Police Board clears cop in controversial fatal shooting of teen
CHICAGO — Bucking the recommendation of police oversight officials who called the shooting “unprovoked and unwarranted,” a divided Chicago Police Board voted 5-3 Thursday night to clear an officer of all wrongdoing in fatally shooting a teen in the back of the head during a foot chase nearly six years ago.
The decision comes a little more than a year after the city’s police watchdog agency had taken the rare step of finding the officer at fault and recommending he be fired for using excessive force in shooting Dakota Bright. The 15-year-old was unarmed when he was shot, but officers recovered a .22-caliber revolver in a front yard near where the chase began, authorities said.
While the Independent Police Review Authority had found inconsistencies in Officer Brandon Ternand’s account of the November 2012 shooting, the police board credited his testimony as “credible and persuasive” and praised him as “a highly decorated and respected tactical officer with years of experience.”
The board majority said it also relied heavily on “his reputation for honesty,” based on the character witness testimony of his partner, other officers on the scene that afternoon, his wife and Deputy Chief Kevin Johnson, who called Ternand among the 10 best officers he has ever supervised.
The Chicago Tribune has previously reported that 23 complaints lodged against Ternand between mid-December 2010 and mid-December 2014 put him among the top dozen officers for the most complaints within the 12,000-strong police force over that period. Ternand was not disciplined for any of those allegations, ranging from excessive force to illegal searches, according to records.
The 11-year department veteran, who has worked in violence-plagued parts of the South and West sides throughout his career, has also been named in half a dozen lawsuits, including one by Bright’s mother, that have cost city taxpayers about a combined $1.1 million.
Records also show that he opened fire while on duty on at least two occasions in addition to Bright’s shooting — all within an approximately two-year period.
A 21-page decision issued Thursday night by the board showed sharp divisions among its members over the case.
In clearing Ternand of wrongdoing, five of the board members found the officer justified in shooting Bright from about 50 feet away.
In testifying earlier this year at his disciplinary hearing, Ternand said he opened fire when he saw Bright turn his head to the right — in the officer’s direction — and reach his hand toward his left side as if he were going to pull a gun.
However, in a written dissent, the three board members who voted for Ternand’s firing questioned how Bright could have turned his head in the moment before he was shot because his autopsy found the bullet struck him “in the midline of the back of his head.”
Citing the testimony of an expert in use of force by police, the three dissenters also questioned why Bright would have been reaching for his left side since authorities found nothing in that pocket.
The decision means that Ternand won’t be fired or face any discipline for the shooting. He will be allowed to return to active duty and be given back pay for the nearly year he was suspended without pay. City payroll records show he is paid about $87,000 a year.
Reached by telephone Thursday night, Ternand declined to talk to a Tribune reporter.
Bright’s mother, Panzy Edwards, said she was unaware of the board’s decision to clear the officer of wrongdoing in her son’s death.
“There’s nothing I can do about it?” she asked.
IPRA’s decision last year to find Ternand at fault marked a rare rebuke for an agency much criticized for going easy on officers and taking far too long to complete its investigations — nearly five years in Ternand’s case.
The landscape appeared to change, though, after the courtordered release in late 2015 of video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shoot teen Laquan McDonald 16 times, sparking heated protests, political turmoil, promises of systemic change, and Van Dyke’s conviction last week for second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.