The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained and published a shocking photo featuring two former Chicago Police Department officers, both white and both armed with rifles, posing with a black man who is seen on the lying on his stomach on the floor and wearing antlers. According to the Sun-Times article, published on Tuesday, the Chicago PD fought to keep the photo from becoming public, saying they wanted to protect the privacy of the unidentified black man, who was allegedly a drug suspect.
The Chicago Sun-Times says the photo is so disturbing that they even ran an apology and explanation for publishing it in yesterday’s edition. The photo is now a matter of public record and has been released as part of the court file. In light of recent racial tensions between law enforcement and the black community, many agencies fear the backlash that could accompany the release of a photo of this nature.
One of the former cops in the photo, Jerome Finnigan is now serving a 12-year prison term after being convicted of several felonies. Finnigan was the ringleader of a crew of rogue cops that committed a series of robberies, home invasions and other crimes. The other cop, Timothy McDermott, who the Sun-Times describes as being “clout-heavy,” was fired last year by the police board in a 5-to-4 vote. The Sun-Times report says the four dissenters argued that McDermott should only be suspended. The majority disagreed, and wrote in their decision that “appearing to treat an African-American man not as a human being but as a hunted animal is disgraceful and shocks the conscience.”
Federal prosecutors gave the Polaroid photo to Chicago police investigators in 2013. It is believed to have been taken in a police station on Chicago’s West Side sometime between 1999 and 2003. Attorneys for the Chicago Police Department and McDermott both asked Judge Thomas Allen to keep the photo under seal earlier this year.
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times that the photo “is disgusting, and the despicable actions of these two former officers 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. 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, as do the thousands of good men and women in this department.”
According to court records, when confronted with the photo by federal investigators, Finnigan allegedly told them that he and McDermott arrested the black man seen in the photo for having “20 bags of weed,” and the man provided them with the rifles. The photo was taken in the tactical office of the Harrison Police District on the West Side, Finnigan said.
The police department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs says it was unable to identify the man in the photo, and ourt records say there is no record of an arrest in the case. Finnigan told the FBI they didn’t arrest the man because he didn’t have a serious criminal background, a law enforcement source told the Sun-Times, who also said that the photo was taken in “the spur of the moment.” The person who took the photo has never been identified.
McDermott’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, said he has advised his client not to talk to the Chicago Sun-Times, but a transcript of an interview between Sgt. Michael Barz of internal affairs and McDermott that took place in June 2013 has been made public, and McDermott explained his role in the photo during the interrogation.
“I do remember an incident where I took a photo with Finnigan and it appears that this is it,” McDermott said in a transcript of the interview. “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.”
McDermott said he could not remember when or where the photo was taken, or anything about the man with the antlers.
“I am embarrassed by my participation in this photograph,” he said. “I made a mistake as a young, impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.”