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Police Board: Fired cop’s ‘reprehensible’ conduct led to woman’s death

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Updated: August 21, 2014 6:52AM

Calling his conduct “reprehensible,” the Chicago Police Board fired Sgt. Steven Lesner because his failure to secure his gun “led directly” to the death of a Northwest Side woman, the board said in a ruling Friday.

The board voted unanimously Thursday night to discharge Lesner, rejecting Supt. Garry McCarthy’s recommendation to suspend the 20-year officer for 60 days over the February 2009 incident in which Catherine Weiland ended up shot in the head with a bullet from Lesner’s gun. Lesner told police she shot herself while he was in her bathroom.

“With all due respect to the superintendent, where the pattern of misconduct is as extensive as we find in this case and the consequences of the misconduct are so grave, the board finds that discharge is the only appropriate penalty,” the board concluded in its 15-page decision.

McCarthy couldn’t be reached for comment. He had recommended suspending Lesner following a series of Chicago Sun-Times reports last summer on Weiland’s death that revealed Lesner had never been disciplined andthat the case remained under investigation by internal affairs.

In a brief interview Thursday, Lesner, 48, blamed the Sun-Times for his dismissal.

“Are you happy?” Lesner asked a reporter. “All I’ve ever done on this job is lock people up. You’ve ruined an entire family. This is all on you. . . . I won’t forget it.”

Lesner and his wife divorced after Weiland’s death. They have two children.

He was an Albany Park District sergeant when he responded to Weiland’s call for help during an argument with her boyfriend at a restaurant. Lesner drove Weiland home — stopping to buy her a bottle of wine on the way — and returned to her apartment with more alcohol after his shift ended.

“It is quite clear that [Lesner] had more in mind than merely ensuring [Weiland’s] safe return to her apartment,” the police board wrote. “He also admits that he gave Ms. Weiland his business card, along with his personal cell phone number.

“Ms. Weiland then promptly called Sgt. Lesner’s cell phone in order to invite him over for cocktails, and he agreed to meet her at her apartment that night. The inescapable conclusion is that Sgt. Lesner offered his cell phone number to facilitate a personal, social encounter between himself and Ms. Weiland, and the ploy worked. . . .

“Having taken advantage of his position to begin a social relationship with Ms. Weiland and having decided to drink with her while armed, Sgt. Lesner made a bad situation even worse by placing his loaded, unlocked auxiliary weapon on the floor next to the love seat where he was sitting. He then left the room, leaving Ms. Weiland alone with his weapon. While the evidence indicates that Ms. Weiland retrieved the weapon and took her own life, Sgt. Lesner made essentially no effort to secure his weapon. Sgt. Lesner’s failure to reasonably secure his weapon led directly to Ms. Weiland’s death.”

Weiland, 47, was found seated, with the gun in her lap. Authorities deterined that the bullet entered her right temple, though the only gunshot residue found was on her left hand. Evidence technicians found no gunshot residue on Lesner’s hands, but the police noted Lesner had washed his hands by the time they tested them.

Weiland lived in a three-flat with her father and brother, both of whom have since died. They told police at the time she’d had mental health issues.

“We expect our police officers to protect citizens, particularly those who have endured situations that leave them distraught,” the police board wrote. “Here, however, Sgt. Lesner used Ms. Weiland’s circumstances for his own benefit.”

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