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The Chicago Police Department fought in court to keep the photograph from going public. Today, it will likely be seen by millions of people online.
The photograph, first published late Tuesday night by the Chicago Sun-Times, depicts two white police officers posing with rifles kneeling over a black man on his stomach wearing deer antlers. One of the officers is grinning, and the other has a hand around the man’s throat.
Attorneys for the Chicago police asked Cook County’s Judge Thomas Allen to keep the photo under seal, according to the Sun-Times, in order to protect the privacy of the man with the antlers above his head; his identity remains a mystery, at least for now.
Allen denied the request in March, and after the newspaper deliberated extensively over whether or not to publish the photo, it’s now being widely shared with the public for the first time.
Unlike the man whom police claim was a criminal suspect, the officers in the photo, which is believed to have been taken between 1999 and 2003, have long been identified.
Former Officer Jerome Finnigan is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence. He was once the leader of Chicago’s notorious Special Operations Section, members of which were found guilty in 2011 of numerous civil rights violations, including the theft of up to $600,000.
Detective Timothy McDermott, who was also assigned to the unit around the time the photograph was taken but not implicated in its criminal activities, was fired last year by a disciplinary board in a 5-4 vote related to the photograph above. He’s since appealed the decision.
During an interview with an internal affairs officer, McDermott reportedly claimed that he couldn’t remember when the photo was taken or anything about the man with the antlers.
“I do remember an incident where I took a photo with Finnigan, and it appears that this is it,” McDermott said, according to a transcript cited in the Sun-Times. “Finnigan called me over, told me to get in the picture, and I sat in the picture. The photo was taken, and I went back to the business I was doing that day.”
It’s unknown whether the man with the antlers was forced to take part in the photograph or if he did so willingly. Neither the police nor the journalists who’ve investigated the event have turned up any clues. It’s possible further details will be revealed after the image is shared across the Web.
“The fact that a police officer who was involved in the incident now wants his job back is reason enough to run the photograph,” Jim Kirk, the Sun-Times‘ editor in chief, wrote in a separate article about why his paper decided to publish the photo. “… For us to hold the photo back would have been no more defensible than the police holding it back.”
“This photograph will offend people, as it offends us,” Kirk continued. “We also know it can be a tool to raise the level of constructive discourse to make our city better. In the end, that’s what the residents of this great city and this newspaper all want.”
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.