The Horrifically Racist Photo That Led to the Firing of a Chicago Cop

Chicago Police Officer Timothy McDermott was fired last year for misconduct, and an old photo where he and another officer are holding rifles over a black man wearing antlers explains why.

by Allie Conti
May 27 2015, 7:26pm

Former Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnegan, left, and Timothy McDermott, right, along with a still-unidentified suspect. Photo via Chicago Sun Times/court file

A photo wrangled from an old court file makes crystal clear why former Officer Timothy McDermott was fired last year by the Chicago Police Department. Standing above an unnamed black man who's hog-tied and adorned with antlers, McDermott and another white officer, Jerome Finnegan, pose smiling with what look like rifles. Coming on the heels of a huge settlement regarding a Chicago Police black-box interrogation site, the pic is not a good look for the oft-disgraced department.

In 2011, Finnegan was sentenced to 12 years in prison for being part of a group of rogue cops who carried out robberies and home invasions. The photo came to light in 2013 as part of that case, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. After a battle to retrieve the photo from the case file, that paper finally published it online Tuesday.

A document prepared by the Chicago Police Board, an oversight body, tells more of the story. On March 24, 2014, the Superintendent of Police asked that McDermott be fired for bringing discredit upon the department, showing disrespect to a citizen, and unnecessarily displaying a weapon. The detective testified that the photo was taken between 1999 and 2003, and that he could remember it only "very, very vaguely"—he said he only remembered someone going, "Hey, Timmie, take a picture."

More on Chicago's policing problems.

The board's vote to fire McDermott was alarmingly close at 5-4. The dissenters argued that they couldn't even prove the black man in the photo was an arrestee and suggested a suspension instead. As the Sun-Times reports, Finnigan remembers arresting the man for having "20 bags of weed," although CPD's Internal Affairs department has been unable to identify him, and Finnegan told the FBI the man was released because he didn't have a serious criminal record.

These days, McDermott drives a truck to support his family and is appealing the CPD's decision, according to the Sun-Times. He's also apparently embarked on a listening tour with residents in hopes of improving relations between cops and the public, though the photo's release will presumably make that trickier to pull off. His appeal is expected to be decided on June 10.

"I am embarrassed by my participation in this photograph," McDermott told Sergeant Michael Barz in a 2013 interview. "I made a mistake as a young, impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.

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