The board’s 5-3 vote on Thursday absolved Officer Brandon Ternand of any wrongdoing, despite a ruling by the Independent Police Review Authority calling the shooting of 15-year-old Dakota Bright unprovoked and unwarranted. IPRA had recommended Ternand, who is white, be fired for using excessive force for shooting Bright, who is black, in the back of the head. [see video below]
In a 5-to-3 vote, that body, the Police Board of the City of Chicago, in its 21-page decision, the board said that it had found “credible and persuasive” the testimony of Officer Ternand that he had feared for his life after the teenager turned around during a foot chase, looked at him and reached for his left side as if for a gun.
The three members of the board who dissented said they did so partly based on the autopsy report, which showed that Dakota was hit in the “midline of the back of his head,” making it “more probable than not” that the teenager was turned away from the officer, the document said.
“With no countervailing evidence, the logical conclusion is the obvious one: If someone is shot in the back of the head, his head was facing away from the person who shot him,” the board’s dissenting members said.
Panzy Edwards, Dakota’s mother, said on Friday that she had learned of the civilian board’s decision when contacted by local journalists. “It was wrong and unjustified,” she said of the decision. “Even with all the evidence, they still let that man go back to work, and they cleared him of any wrongdoing.”
Bright was a freshman at Robeson High School when he was shot and killed while running away from police on Nov. 8, 2012. An autopsy revealed he was shot in the back of the head.
The shooting sparked controversy, and set off protests in the community. Bright’s family said he had just left a friend’s place, and was walking to his grandmother’s house when he was shot and killed.
The night of the shooting, Ternand and his partner were responding to a call of a burglary that turned out to be a false alarm. Ternand told the Police Board they saw Bright walking in an alley with a gun in his hand.
IPRA had questioned Ternand’s account of the shooting, in which he claimed he shot Bright after he reached for his waist and started turning toward him, after running away and scaling several fences.
Bright was unarmed when he was shot, although a .22-caliber revolver was found in a front yard near where Ternand and his partner began chasing the teen.
A majority of the Chicago Police Board found Ternand’s testimony to be credible and persuasive. The board said he had been a tactical officer for five years, calling him a decorated officer, and noting his reputation for honesty was backed by character witnesses.
Bright’s family sued the city over the shooting, and in 2016 the City Council approved a $925,000 settlement.
Ternand was placed on paid desk duty from 2012 to 2017 while the shooting was under investigation. He was suspended without pay last November. Having been cleared by the Police Board, Ternand will be reinstated to active duty, and given back pay for the time he was suspended.