- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago police asked a judge to seal a photograph of two white officers holding rifles over a black man wearing deer antlers in an effort to protect the unidentified black man’s privacy, an argument that sparked skepticism Thursday by some community activists.

The photo is believed to have been taken between 1999 and 2003, but it was recently made public as part of a lawsuit filed by one of the officers in the photo, former detective Timothy McDermott. The photo was uncovered during an FBI investigation into police wrongdoing and led to McDermott’s firing in October, but he has since sued to get his job back.

The Chicago Police Department argued in court documents that the photograph needed to remain sealed “to protect the privacy of the unknown individual” in the photo, but a judge ruled against the department in March. The photo was first published this week by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Activists say police should have released it long ago and missed an opportunity to build trust between the department and the city’s large minority communities.

“They were trying to keep bad publicity from becoming public,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, who has been critical of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the past. “It’s almost like a reflex to cover, to withhold information that puts the police department in a bad light.”

Another activist, Jitu Brown, said it was particularly troubling that it took years before the department acknowledged the photo existed.

“Are you telling me nobody else at the police department knew they took that picture?” he asked. “Somebody else took that picture. They covered up that picture.”

McCarthy’s office didn’t return calls for comment Thursday, but McCarthy released a statement saying he found the photograph “disgusting.” McCarthy said that when he learned about the photo, he quickly fired McDermott - and would have fired the other officer in the photo, Jerome Finnigan, had he not already been serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption.

The FBI uncovered the photo while investigating Finnigan, who was convicted in 2011 of leading a band of rogue police who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from suspected drug dealers and ordered a hit on a fellow officer to keep him from revealing the scheme.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that McDermott told the Police Department’s internal affairs division in 2013 that participating in the photo was a mistake.

“I was asked to join the photo and I did so without exercising proper judgment,” he was quoted as saying in a transcript. “I made a mistake as a young impressionable police officer who was trying to fit in.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also opposes returning McDermott to his job.

The release of the photograph comes at a time when interactions between police and minorities are under intense scrutiny nationwide. Chicago hasn’t seen the violent protests that have erupted in Baltimore and other cities recently, though the city recently paid millions of dollars in reparations to black suspects who were tortured years ago by police. The Chicago City Council also recently approved paying $5.5 million to the family of a teenager who died after he was shot 16 times by an officer in October.

McCarthy has embarked on a “listening tour” with hopes of improving the relationship between the department and the community. Last week, he said some of his initiatives have resulted in fewer officer-involved shootings, increased trust in the department and fewer complaints against the officers.

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