The three off-duty Chicago cops were apparently drunk when Obed “OJ” DeLeon walked into a taco joint late one night and began complaining about a driver who had left a Camaro blocking the entrance to the parking lot.
“Yeah, that guy’s an asshole for parking like that,” DeLeon told another two men he did not know, whom were also waiting in line to place an order.
Overhearing DeLeon’s comments was the owner of the car, Jason Orsa, one of the three cops sitting at a nearby table with a fourth friend.
“What if I’m an asshole?” Orsa replied.
“You need to quit acting like an asshole and go move your car,” DeLeon responded.
That was when one of the cops sitting at the table, Brian Murphy, pulled out a gun and pointed it at DeLeon’s face while shoving him against a wall.
A series of surveillance videos show Orsa and the third cop, Daniel McNamara, joined in the assault, beating DeLeon along with their friend, Matthew Walsh, a Marine who had just returned from Iraq.
Witnesses say the cops never identified themselves as cops, so somebody called 911 to report “a white man with a gun.”
However, when the uniformed on-duty cops arrived, they arrested DeLeon, who by then, was beaten and bruised and had his shirt ripped off from him.
Also arrested were two witnesses, Joseph Mularczyk and Shawn Nelson, the two men whom DeLeon was conversing with while waiting to place an order.
They had tried to tell the responding cops that DeLeon was the victim, not the aggressor. But they ended up charged with assaulting Walsh, even though the surveillance videos show that never took place.
Meanwhile, the off-duty cops who started the melee were allowed to leave through a back door, never once providing an official statement.
The incident took place on March 24 2006, leading to a lengthy investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority after DeLeon filed a complaint only days after the incident.
During the investigation, the cops claimed that DeLeon had walked into the restaurant shouting gang slogans and threatening to kill cops, making them fear for their lives.
However, after reviewing the video evidence and statements from witnesses, the Chicago Review Board decided to terminate two officers in January 2011; Murphy, who drew his gun, and Orsa, whose comments started the altercation.
The sergeant who responded to the incident, Louis Danielson, was also suspended for six months for his failure to conduct a proper investigation into the melee.
But as they always do, the cops appealed the decision and won their jobs back after Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen M. Pantle overturned the review board’s decision in 2012, awarding them back pay for the year they were out of work. Danielson’s suspension was also lifted after the judge’s ruling.
However, last month, a state appeals panel overturned Pantle’s ruling, determining that the two cops deserved to be fired.
The city appealed the judge’s decision and, four years after her decision as well as ten years after the incident, a state appeals panel sided with the city, ruling that the cops deserve to be fired.
A state appeals panel on Tuesday upheld the firing of two Chicago police officers who assaulted a man inside a Northwest Side restaurant more than 10 years ago while off-duty.
But the 1st District Appellate Court took the extra step of criticizing Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen M. Pantle, who ruled in favor of officers Jason Orsa and Brian Murphy, finding their version of events credible despite contrary video evidence.
“Not only does the circuit court disregard the board’s determination that the testimony of the two witnesses was particularly credible and the testimony of the police officers was not worthy of belief, but it also interprets what occurs on the surveillance video in ways that twist the facts and defy reason,” Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote.
“Our careful and close review of the video leaves us dumbfounded by the circuit court’s rejection of the [b]oard’s prima facie true and correct findings,” Hyman added.
But that doesn’t mean the cops will actually be fired. No, that would be too easy.
It just means that the Chicago Police Board can fire them if it wishes, but only after it receives the appellate court order, which apparently it does not have, even though it’s been nearly a month since the decision was made.
DeLeon and the two eyewitnesses who were arrested as well that night in 2006 were surprised to learn from a Chicago Tribune reporter that both officers were still on the force. All three said the handling of the investigation was another example of the city’s reluctance to root out police misconduct.
“My (then-unborn) son is 10 years old now!” DeLeon, 32, said recently on learning the officers had been reinstated on the force and given back pay after the judge reversed their firings in 2012.
“The amount of evidence that they had against these guys, it’s amazing to me that it’s still going on,” said Shawn Nelson, 37, a restaurant patron that night who tried to intervene on DeLeon’s behalf. “I can’t even believe it.”
“This is the reason why the general public has issues with police officers,” said Joseph Mularczyk, 36, the other eyewitness. “It’s misbehavior like this. It’s covered up. It’s pushed under the table, and here we are 10 years later (and) these guys are still on the Police Department.”
Even if the Chicago Police Board finally decides to obtain the appellate ruling and proceed with the termination process, the officers can still file another appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, so this is probably not over yet.