Chicago Po­lice Board clears cop in con­tro­ver­sial fa­tal shoot­ing of teen

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION - By Jeremy Gorner

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.

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