CHICAGO - Two officers who allegedly lied about the fatal shooting of a 25-year-old man are now facing dismissal more than 12 years after the deadly encounter, which has already cost the city millions of dollars in a lawsuit.
Chicago Police Supt. David Brown filed disciplinary charges with the Chicago Police Board on Oct. 28 alleging that Officers Armando Ugarte and Michael St. Clair II repeatedly made false statements about the shooting of William Hope Jr. on July 8, 2010.
None of the charges deal directly with whether the shooting was justified, which Hope’s family’s attorney said should have been the "number one priority with respect to this incident."
"They have to be held accountable for lying," attorney Mark Parts said of the officers. "But here, the real fundamental human issue is that a man was shot and killed unjustifiably."
A federal jury awarded Hope’s family $4.6 million after Parts’ firm filed suit against the city and the two officers, who were each ordered to pay $10,000 of their own money for punitive damages and participate in a police training scenario based on the case.
A shifting narrative
Ugarte had pulled in front of Hope that summer afternoon as Hope sat behind the wheel of a Pontiac Grand Am in the parking lot a Popeye’s restaurant at 111 W. 75th St.
Ugarte and St. Clair said they spotted a roll of money in the center console and a cellphone, testifying that they asked for Hope’s driver’s license and the phone. They claimed Hope tried to drive off once they returned the items.
Testimony showed Ugarte reached through the window to gain control of the car, and St. Clair fired four shots that killed Hope. The officers claimed Ugarte got stuck in the window and feared for his life, arguing that Hope was using his car as a weapon.
Witnesses disputed those key claims, saying the car wasn’t going any faster than 3 mph and Ugarte wasn’t in grave danger. A law enforcement expert said there was no reason to stop Hope in the first place.
Former Deputy Police Chief Dana Alexander initially reported that Hope tried to drive away when Ugarte tried reaching into the Grand Am to shut off the engine, the Chicago Tribune reported. Alexander said Ugarte was briefly struck and dragged, leading St. Clair to open fire.
But Brown’s charges allege that both officers lied to officials and falsely testified in the civil case about where Ugarte was positioned when the shots rang out.
Ugarte falsely claimed he was stuck at the time, with his upper body still in the car, Brown said. St. Clair repeatedly lied in saying that Ugarte remained in the car until after the shooting, Brown said.
Because the officers now face termination, an evidentiary hearing will be held before the police board rules on their cases. A status hearing was set for Dec. 19.
Max Caproni, the board’s executive director, said paperwork hasn’t been filed identifying the officers’ attorneys.
‘You lie, you die’
Each charge alleges the officers broke rules against discrediting the police department and making false reports. Officers who are found to have violated the latter rule are typically fired because such an infraction undercuts their credibility.
When Mayor Lori Lightfoot was the police board president in 2016, she told WBEZ that the violation is "colloquially known as the ‘you lie, you die’ rule."
But last month, it was revealed that Officer Robert Bakker wouldn’t be fired despite lying about his close ties to the far-right Proud Boys. Lightfoot and Brown have both defended the decision to instead suspend Bakker for 120 days — a punishment that was apparently handed down without police officials assessing whether he violated the rule prohibiting false statements.
Inspector General Deborah Witzburg said the decision set a dangerous precedent.
"The outcome of this case represents a determination that someone who made ‘false’ and ‘contradicting’ statements about his association with the Proud Boys should continue to wear the uniform of the Chicago Police Department," Witzburg had told the Sun-Times.