Photography is not a crime, but that doesn’t mean it’s always without consequences, as a Chicago police officer recently learned.
Officer Timothy McDermott is fighting to get his job back after an old Polaroid photo surfaced, depicting him and fellow officer and current convict Jerome Finnigan holding hunting rifles while crouched over a black man wearing antlers.
McDermott is seen in the photo with his hand around the man’s neck as though he were choking him.
The photo was in poor taste at best, especially for a police department with a history of torturing black suspects into false confessions, and resulted in McDermott’s termination.
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.
Both McDermott and the police department asked Cook County judge Thomas Allen to keep the photo from the public, citing privacy concerns about the black man in the photo. However, the judge denied their requests in March, allowing the photo to be released.
The man wearing antlers still has not been identified nor has the person who took the photo.
McDermott told investigators that he couldn’t remember anything about the man in the photo, but Finnigan said the two arrested the man having “20 bags of weed” and that he gave them the rifles. Finnigan said they let the man go and neither he nor McDermott filed a police report.
The picture was uncovered by the feds years ago while they were investigating Finnigan, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison is 2011 after he pleaded guilty to putting a hit out on a fellow police officer.
Finnigan was part of group of corrupt police officers in the department’s Special Operations Section who carried out robberies, home invasions and other crimes.
Daniel Herbert, McDermot’s attorney, tried to raise doubts about the more-than-a-decade old photo during his closing arguments at McDermott’s disciplinary hearing.
“What’s to say this individual wasn’t performing at a Christmas pageant in the district and was dressed as a reindeer and had taken the reindeer suit off? Again, I don’t mean to make preposterous arguments, but the charges in this case, they warrant that,” he said.
Herbert also compared the photo to an episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry is wrongly accused of picking his nose.
Herbert said there was strong evidence in the photo that the African-American man was a “willing participant” and was not coerced to pose with antlers. He even questioned whether the guns were really broomsticks carved to look like weapons.
Former police superintendent Phil Cline and former deputy superintendent Thomas Byrne, who is McDermott’s stepfather, both spoke positively of him at the disciplinary hearing. Nevertheless, he was fired.
According to the Sun-Times, McDermott has been named in four lawsuits throughout his career. Three resulted in settlements and one resulted in a jury awarding damages. The four payouts totaled to $162,000 as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
And now that McDermott is taking the city to court to get his job back, he’s costing taxpayers even more.