As a fired Chicago police officer fights the city to get his job back, the public is finally getting a chance to see the photograph that got the officer fired in the first place.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times published a photograph, taken between 1999 and 2003, showing two officers holding rifles and posing over an African-American man who is wearing deer antlers.
As the paper reports, the “racially charged photo” was handed over to the Chicago Police Department in 2013 by federal authorities, following an investigation that landed one of the photographed officers in prison for 12 years.
That officer, Jerome Finnigan, (pictured on the left in the photograph), was sentenced for leading a gang of cops from the city’s Special Operations Section in a spate of robberies, home invasions and other crimes.
The other officer, Timothy McDermott, was fired from the department in October 2014 after the photograph came to the attention of Superintendent Garry McCarthy, who recommended McDermott be fired.
At that time the Chicago Police Board voted 5-4 to fire McDermott for his role in the photo, the Chicago Tribune reported. He was not implicated in the larger SOS scandal that landed Finnigan in federal prison.
But he was found guilty, by the board, of three departmental violations including bringing discredit on the department, disrespecting or maltreating a person on or off duty, and unlawful or unnecessary use or display of a weapon.
McDermott is now fighting in court to get his job back with the help of attorney Daniel Herbert.
As his case works its way through the court system, the Chicago Police Department, which has been on a recent campaign to improve its relationship with minority communities in the city, sought to block the release of the photo. McDermott and Herbert also requested that the photo not be released, according to the Sun-Times.
Cook County Judge Thomas Thomas Allen denied the requests in March and the Sun-Times recently acquired the photo in the court documents.
McCarthy, who recently launched a city-wide listening tour as part of the effort to mend relationships in the communities, called the photograph “disgusting.”
In a statement to the Sun-Times, he called the actions of the officers “despicable” and said the actions “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,” he stated. “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," he added, "as do the thousands of good men and women in this department.”
Herbert said he has advised his client not to speak to the Sun-Times.
In transcripts of a 2013 internal affairs interview, obtained by the paper, McDermott said he only vaguely remembers posing for the photograph.
“I do remember an incident where I took a photo with Finnigan and it appears that this is it,” McDermott said. “Finnigan called me over, told me to get in the picture and I sat in the picture. The photo was taken, and I went back to the business I was doing that day.
“I am embarrassed by my participation in this photograph,” he added. “I made a mistake as a young, impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.”
The African-American man in the photograph has never been identified.