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Police supt. suspends officer over woman’s death involving cop’s gun

Chicago police Sgt. Steven E. Lesner.  |  Sun-Times files

Chicago police Sgt. Steven E. Lesner. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 12, 2013 9:36AM

P olice Supt. Garry McCarthy is seeking a 60-day suspension for a sergeant whose gun was used in the shooting of a Northwest Side woman four years ago — a death that was ruled a suicide.

Sgt. Steven E. Lesner has been suspended indefinitely without pay by McCarthy pending a decision by the Chicago Police Board, which has to approve any suspension longer than 30 days. A preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday.

The police say Catherine Weiland shot herself in the head with Lesner’s service weapon while he was in her bathroom on Feb. 18, 2009 — hours after he answered her 911 call at a restaurant where she was arguing with her boyfriend.

McCarthy says Lesner violated three departmental rules:

Transporting liquor in a police car.

Bringing discredit on the department.

“Inattention to duty.”

Lesner has admitted to the police that he:

Stopped to buy Weiland a bottle of wine while driving her home from the bar at La Villa Restaurant at 3638 N. Pulaski.

And left his gun unattended while he went to the bathroom in Weiland’s apartment at 3115 N. St. Louis.

Lesner told detectives he returned to Weiland’s apartment after his shift because the twice-divorced 47-year-old invited him over to watch TV and drink with her.

Lesner, at the time a married father of two, returned with another bottle of wine and a six-pack of beer.

In his complaint against Lesner, McCarthy writes, “You failed to secure your auxiliary weapon (a Smith and Wesson Model #3953 9mm semi-automatic handgun)
. . . and/or by leaving your weapon unattended when you left the room, and/or by allowing Ms. Catherine Weiland to take possession of your weapon, which she then used to commit suicide by shooting herself in the head.”

The superintendent has filed disciplinary charges with the police board against 11 officers since July 1. Lesner is the only one whose case involves a death. McCarthy wants six of the other officers fired, including one he says filed a false police report and two he accuses of violating the city’s residency rule by living in the suburbs.

The punishment proposed for Lesner is a little longer than what the police superintendent is urging for two officers who were arrested for driving drunk while off-duty. He wants a 45-day suspension for one of those officers. The other faces a 40-day suspension.

Lesner, who’s been with the Chicago Police Department for 20 years, would not discuss the disciplinary charges.

“I’ve got no comments,” said Lesner, 47 and now divorced. “I don’t know why you guys are running with this story. You’re just ruining a family, which is mine.”

McCarthy can’t discuss Lesner’s case because doing so would violate the department’s contract with the sergeants’ union, police spokesman Adam Collins said.

Lesner was among the Chicago cops highlighted in a Chicago Sun-Times investigation this summer of police discipline that found officers remain on the job or face inconsistent punishment after breaking department rules or committing crimes. In one of those cases, a lieutenant got a 30-day suspension after pleading guilty to the assault and battery of a woman. In another, an officer was fired over the theft of a 99-cent bag of trail mix, though he was acquitted by a judge.

Lesner had been working the midnight shift in the 17th District when the Sun-Times published a report Aug. 19 about Weiland’s death, which had remained under investigation for more than four years by the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

McCarthy filed disciplinary charges with the Chicago Police Board on Sept. 11 against Lesner, but he remained on duty, newly obtained records show.

On Sept. 16, the Sun-Times reported Lesner had washed his hands at Weiland’s apartment before investigating officers arrived and could test his hands for gunshot residue to determine whether he might have fired his weapon.

On Oct. 3, Lesner was suspended without pay, according to Collins.

The bullet from Lesner’s gun entered the right side of Weiland’s head, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The only gunshot residue found was on Weiland’s left hand. She was right-handed.

Weiland’s boyfriend, Daniel Franzgrote, said he’s disappointed with Lesner’s proposed punishment. He wants an authority outside the Police Department to investigate Weiland’s death.

“Why didn’t they do this four years ago?” said Franzgrote, who was quarreling with Weiland when she called 911 and Lesner responded.

Franzgrote left the restaurant without incident, and no police report was filed.

“I don’t think it’s enough,” he said of Lesner’s proposed punishment. “But, then again, what really happened? And the only person who knows what really happened is him.”

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