CHICAGO — A Chicago police officer found at fault by the city’s police watchdog for a teenager’s fatal shooting in 2012 fired at suspects in two other incidents, was involved in more than half a dozen lawsuits and had about 25 complaints filed against him, records show.
Over a recent four-year period, Officer Brandon Ternand was among about a dozen officers who had amassed the most complaints within the 12,000-strong police force.
In its ruling, the Independent Police Review Authority called the officer’s shooting of 15-year-old Dakota Bright in the back of the head during a foot chase “unprovoked and unwarranted.”
On learning of the IPRA’s findings, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the office would take another look at the shooting. In 2013, the office, then led by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, decided not to prosecute the officer.
“In light of IPRA’s recently released report, the Office plans to review the case to ensure that the matter has been thoroughly reviewed in light of all available information,” Foxx’s spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton, said in an emailed statement.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Ternand, a 10-year veteran, remains on active duty while the department reviews the IPRA’s findings.
Ternand declined to comment, but a statement issued by the head of the police union that represents rank-and-file officers said the IPRA’s findings were politically motivated and questioned the competence of its investigators.
“We believe the decision by IPRA to rule this incident unjustified is certainly arbitrary, based more on political considerations than the rule of evidence,” said Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham. “A gun was recovered. This incident also cries out for the fact that IPRA should have personnel qualified to conduct shooting investigations, which it currently does not have.”
The IPRA did not identify the officer, citing union contract prohibitions, but other records obtained by the Chicago Tribune through Freedom of Information Act requests show Ternand shot Bright in the South Side’s Park Manor neighborhood on the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2012.
The IPRA report said that Bright was not armed when he was shot but may have tossed a gun during the chase. Officers found a .22-caliber revolver in a front yard near where the chase began, IPRA said.
The IPRA report disclosed that a woman witnessed the shooting called 911 and reported that an officer had shot someone in the back.
“The fact that this statement was made contemporaneously with the actual event weighs in favor of its reliability, as does the fact it is corroborated by the physical evidence,” the IPRA said.
The records obtained by the Tribune show that Ternand was among 11 officers in the department who amassed the most complaints between mid-December 2010 and mid-December 2014.
Over that time, he was the subject of 23 complaints alleging such things as the use of excessive force and illegal searches, according to the records. Ternand was not disciplined in any of the cases.
FOP officials commonly point out that officers who work in high-crime areas often are hit with complaints they allege to be false. Ternand has worked in violence-plagued parts of the South and West sides throughout his career.
Ternand has also been named in six federal lawsuits in addition to the one by Bright’s family filed in Cook County Circuit Court. Records show that the city has paid about $1.1 million overall in cases involving Ternand, including $925,000 last year to settle the lawsuit by Bright’s mother.
According to the records, Ternand has fired shots on three separate occasions — all within about two years.
In August 2012, about three months before Bright’s shooting, Ternand and another officer fired at two men. Ternand fired three shots but didn’t hit anyone, according to the records.
In October 2014, Ternand shot three times at a 16-year-old but missed, the records show.
The ruling by the IPRA on Thursday was a rare decision finding a Chicago police officer at fault for use of force. Since the court-ordered release in late 2015 of video showing an officer shoot teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times sparked heated protests, political turmoil and promises of systemic change, the IPRA has found five shootings — including Bright’s — to be unjustified uses of force. In contrast, in the eight years before that, the agency investigated hundreds of shootings but found only two to be unjustified.
Ternand and his partner, and a second police unit, had responded to a call of a burglary in progress at about 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2012, but the officers found no trouble and began to leave when they saw Bright walking toward them in an alley.
The officers claimed that Bright held a gun in his right hand, looked toward the officers and took off running while tucking the gun in his waist.
Ternand gave chase on foot as Bright ran through backyards and jumped fences.
Ternand later said he opened fire as he saw Bright stumble, reach toward his waist and turn in his direction.
Ternand, identified by the IPRA only as Officer A, told detectives at the scene of the shooting that he spotted a dark-colored handgun in Bright’s hand on first seeing him in an alley. But IPRA noted that when his partner called in the description of the fleeing Bright to dispatchers at the Office of Emergency Management and Communications, he never said the suspect was armed, only that he was “holdin’ his left side.”
“The fact that Officer A claims to have seen (Bright) wield the firearm in this manner and failed to ensure that this information was reported to OEMC to inform his fellow officers lacks credibility,” the IPRA said.
The IPRA also found that Ternand gave inconsistent accounts of what he saw Bright doing with his hands as he fled. Ternand later said he saw Bright reaching for his waist, which IPRA called “an important justification” for Ternand’s belief that the teen was armed. That made it all the more surprising, though, that Ternand failed to mention that detail when he first spoke to detectives at the shooting scene, IPRA said.
The civilian witness said she didn’t see Bright reaching for anything on his waist because “he was runnin’ so fast.” She also said that “I think you could see his boxers” — leading the IPRA to suggest he might have just been pulling his pants up, not reaching for a gun, as he cleared fences while being chased.
The IPRA also took issue with Ternand’s claim that after scaling the last fence, Bright reached toward his waist area and started turning toward the officer. “This lacks credibility,” said the IPRA, noting that Bright was already two city lots away — about 50 to 55 feet — from Ternand.
Given that it turned out that Bright had no gun when he was shot, IPRA said, it was unlikely that he would have made a gesture toward the officer, particularly since he was likely pulling away from the officer during the foot chase.
In addition, IPRA pointed out that Bright was shot in the back of his head, calling that detail “another important piece of verifiable evidence that undermines the plausibility of Officer A’s account of the events.”
“This evidence suggests that (Bright) was facing away from the officer when he was shot,” IPRA said.
When asked to explain how Bright could have been shot in the back of the head, Ternand said he guessed that he turned his head back the “split second” after he fired. But the IPRA said that conflicted with Ternand’s consistent claim he fired at Bright as he began to turn toward him.
The IPRA also pointed to other inconsistencies. Ternand said he saw Bright reach into his waist, yet the officer acknowledged he was facing away from him as he fled, making “it difficult for the officers to see what his hands were doing in front of his body,” the IPRA said.
The IPRA concluded that Ternand’s use of deadly force was “objectively unreasonable” by a preponderance of the evidence.
“IPRA relies upon the inconsistencies in Officer A’s statements, contravening physical evidence and eyewitness testimony to determine that Officer A was unreasonable in his belief that (Bright) presented an imminent threat of death or bodily harm to the officer, necessitating the use of deadly force,” the IPRA said.
(Todd Lighty and Dan Hinkel contributed to this report.)