A black West Side uncle who says he witnessed four white Chicago cops force his teenage nephew to pose in a series of racist and degrading photos has demanded that Mayor Rahm Emanuel launch an investigation into two officers he says have yet to be held accountable.
Two officers, who appear in the now infamous photo toting rifles as they hold a black man with antlers on his head as if he were a hunting trophy, are no longer with the department. A third cop who took the picture and a fourth who posed in other degrading photos that night in 2003 should also be named and punished, said the uncle, Robert Smith, 50.
“Is Mayor Emanuel going to put a full investigation into what I’m saying to see if its true?,” Smith said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “All of them should be fired . . . what about the other two? They should be identified.”
One of the officers in the photo, Jerome Finnigan, is in federal prison, serving time for leading a crew of dirty cops who kidnapped drug dealers and for plotting the murder of a fellow cop. The other, Tim McDermott, was fired last year after the FBI passed the photo to Chicago Police and is fighting to get his job back.
Police say they have been unable to identify either the officer who took the photo inside the Harrison District police station or the black male depicted in it. But Smith on Thursday told the Sun-Times that the man is his late nephew, Michael Spann, that he is sure he could pick the officer who took the photos out of a lineup and that there are more degrading photos of two other officers posing with Spann. Smith added that the officer who took the photo volunteered that he had the same birthday as Smith when the officer ran a background check on him — a detail that might make his identification easier.
Supt. Garry McCarthy in an emailed statement on Friday repeated his earlier comments that “the photo is disgusting and not reflective of the Chicago Police Department’s values” adding that “there is no place in the CPD for an officer who would participate in such activity,” describing the investigation as “active.”
“If additional officers are identified, swift action will be taken,” he said.
Still, Smith and his brother — Spann’s father, Michael Smith — say police have made no attempt to talk to them since the Smiths identified Spann on local TV news and to the Sun-Times.
“Nobody came to me and asked me nothing,” Robert Smith said. “No internal affairs, no officers . . . nobody said nothing. I guess they’re still claiming that that is not Michael Spann in that picture. C’mon now!”
“In that picture is Michael Spann . . . that is not [an] unidentified person. I was standing next to him in handcuffs, wondering if I was gonna be next.”
An emotional Michael Smith teared up at Friday’s news conference as he described his grief at seeing the photo for the first time last month when it was published in the Sun-Times, eight years after his son was killed in a drive-by shooting.
“When I saw this picture my heart broke,” Michael Smith said, adding that though his son had told him about the degrading photos, he never had any evidence to back up his claim until the photo finally surfaced last month.
His son was terrified of police after the incident and “would take off running” whenever he saw them, though he had committed no crime, he said.
“He was scared to death of the police . . . and I don’t blame him,” he said. “That picture was disgusting.”