CHICAGO, IL — A Chicago police officer was recently fired for his alleged involvement in allowing an off-duty officer to leave the scene of an assault over 10 years ago.
On Dec. 17, the Chicago Police Board voted to fire Officer Jason Burg in an 8-to-1 decision even though a key witness died during the decade it took for the agency to get around to holding a disciplinary hearing, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Burg is alleged to have allowed a fellow officer, Chris Gofron, to leave the scene after being suspected of assaulting two people while off duty on June 26, 2010. The incident happened over 10 years ago outside an apartment complex near O’Hare International Airport, according to Chicago Tribune.
Police Board member John O’Malley was the only one who voted against dismissing Burg. He argued there was insufficient evidence to conclude the officer did anything wrong, let alone fire him, and called it “unconscionable” that city officials took so many years to bring disciplinary charges.
Angel De La Rosa, a key witness from the 2010 incident, died before he could be called to testify in Burg’s 2020 disciplinary hearing. Still, the board was able to fire Burg, a decision that rested heavily on the officer’s credibility, according to Chicago Tribune.
The newspaper noted the board allowed into evidence a deposition given by De La Rosa before he died. The deposition was part of a federal lawsuit, which was filed by the alleged victims of the attack.
The lawsuit against Burg and the off-duty officer ended in 2012 and resulted in a $160,000 payout to the victims, court records show. Gofron also resigned from the Chicago Police Department.
Somehow she thinks the City of Chicago paying out millions for police misconduct is affecting their behavior…it's not.— Anne McCarthy (@AM_McCarthy) December 19, 2020
The eight board members who voted in favor of firing Burg found him guilty of violating several Chicago Police Department rules, according to Chicago Tribune’s report.
Board members also said he wrongly allowed Gofron to leave the scene of the assaults without arresting him or taking down his information. They also noted that Burg then made “false representations” to the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority, which investigated the case.
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In its 27-page written decision, the board also ruled Burg falsely indicated in a police report that the assault suspect was not known.
According to the board’s report, the 2010 incident began when Burg responded to a disturbance call involving Gofron, who attacked Heather Rzany and her then-boyfriend, Luis Cordero, as they were walking through a picnic area.
Gofron was in a truck with De La Rosa and allegedly yelled at the couple to leave. He stumbled out of the truck while holding a beer bottle, screamed at the couple, took out his badge and then retrieved his gun from inside the vehicle.
Gofron then allegedly attacked the male with the butt of his gun and chased the female and grabbed her by the neck and placed his gun in her mouth. Gofron also struck her hand.
Rzany testified that Burg allowed Gofron to leave the scene, and the board wrote that it found her to be credible and convincing:
“Her demeanor throughout her testimony was singularly serious and self-contained. She did not waiver in her recollection of what was clearly a traumatic experience for her and Mr. Cordero.”
It took two years before Rzany was able to identify Godon as the officer who assaulted her and Cordero. Rzany had to examine hundreds of officer photos before identifying her alleged attacker.
Burg testified before the board that he did not know Gofron and that the off-duty officer had left the scene before he arrived, however, the board did not find his testimony credible, writing:
“He gave an inconsistent statement about where Ms. Rzany was standing when he arrived at the scene.”
In his dissenting opinion, O’Malley wrote the scene would have been “too hectic and the environment too chaotic” for Rzany to witness Gofron showing Burg his badge, and hear Burg telling Gofron to leave.
O’Malley questioned the long delay to bring charges and how that may have impacted the case. He felt De La Rosa’s deposition left some unanswered questions and noted several officers were also on the scene with Burg.
O’Malley noted on Dec. 17 that the incident happened almost 10½ years ago and IPRA’s investigation into the matter was “essentially completed” by February 2014, almost four years after the incident and six years before Burg’s police board hearing took place.
Chicago Tribune reported disciplinary charges were finally brought against Burg in January of 2019, but the officer was already on disability or inactive duty since 2015.
Critics of Chicago’s police disciplinary system have said major delays are unfair to both victims of police misconduct and the accused officers. Burg’s firing comes at a time when Mayor Lori Lightfoot has promised to speed up police reform and increase transparency.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she personally apologized to Anjanette Young “on behalf of the city” for how the social worker was treated during a 2019 police raid on her home. https://t.co/3yg5LeYZah— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) January 5, 2021
On Thursday, Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman said in a statement that many of the cases the board hears “are five years old or older” and called the delays unacceptable:
“They undermine officers’, complainants’, and the public’s confidence in an equitable, fair, and efficient police-accountability system, which is the underpinning of safety in our communities.
“We have collected data on approximately 20 cases and one of our top priorities for the upcoming year is to use (that) data to identify trends and opportunities for improvement in each part of the disciplinary process.”
Illinois Supreme Court rules Chicago police misconduct records should remain available to the public and not be destroyed after 5 years https://t.co/NykL0COt6B— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) June 18, 2020
Burg’s lawyer, Tim Grace, said the amount of time that elapsed may have hurt his client because the key witness was dead and important evidence, such as surveillance video footage at the apartment complex, was no longer available:
“Case was 10 years old. Key witness is dead. It’s unfair to the victim, if you believe the victim in the case, to wait 10 years to have her justice. It’s unfair to all the parties.”
“I have no idea what the hell someone’s been doing. Did they all of a sudden just find his file in a corner somewhere?”
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