When Chicago police broke up a drunken spat between Daniel Franzgrote and his girlfriend at a Northwest Side restaurant in 2009, he didn’t know that the fleeting glimpse of his intoxicated girlfriend venting her frustrations to a police supervisor would be the last time he'd see her alive.
After the supervisor bought her more alcohol, drove her home and returned with even more booze when his shift ended, Catherine Weiland, 47, fatally shot herself later that night with the officer’s weapon, police allege.
On Friday, more than five years since her death, the Chicago Police Board will hold a hearing to decide what discipline to impose on the supervisor, Sgt. Steven Lesner. In January the board rejected Superintendent Garry McCarthy's recommendation that Lesner be suspended for 60 days for leaving his handgun unattended and buying the bottle of wine for Weiland while on-duty. The board said it was “not convinced” that the proposed suspension was “an appropriate penalty in the case.”
Testimony will be heard at the administrative hearing, but the board won’t issue a decision until a later date.
Both Lesner and his lawyer declined to comment.
According to Chicago and Illinois state police reports, Lesner, then assigned to the Albany Park patrol district, told detectives he drove Weiland home because she was drunk but acknowledged stopping at a liquor store first to buy her a bottle of wine.
After dropping off Weiland, he gave her his business card and wrote his cell phone number on it, the reports show. The two talked over the phone a few hours later. Lesner turned down Weiland’s invitation to go out drinking but then agreed to come over to her apartment and watch television when his shift ended, according to the reports.
Lesner, who was married at the time but has since divorced, told detectives the two drank at her apartment, but he denied having any sexual relations with Weiland.
At some point, he removed his ankle holster with his weapon in it and put it on the floor, he told investigators. Lesner told them that he later went to the bathroom before hearing a single gunshot coming from the living room.
Responding to a 911 call, officers found Weiland sitting on her love seat with a gunshot wound to her right temple. Lesner’s Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic handgun was on her lap, reports show. She was dead on the scene, and the Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled her death a suicide.
Lesner’s hands were tested for gunshot residue -- but not for more than three hours after the February 2009 shooting. The test showed no residue, but Lesner admitted he had washed his hands.
Gunshot residue was found on Weiland’s left hand even though the police reports indicate she shot herself with her right hand.
A relative of Weiland’s told investigators that she was an alcoholic, bipolar and had not been taking her medication, according to the reports. The investigators were also told that Weiland cut her wrists several months earlier, was treated previously at Chicago Read Mental Health Center and had spoken in the past about hurting herself, the reports show.
In an interview this week at his suburban apartment, Franzgrote said it wasn’t until several days after Weiland’s death that he learned she had died. Frustrated but determined to learn more, he called Chicago police but was stonewalled because he was not a family member.
Franzgrote said he drank to numb the emotional pain but stopped a few weeks later and has been sober ever since.
Franzgrote, who owns a carpentry business, acknowledged his relationship with Weiland was dysfunctional at times. They had gotten into a few alcohol-fueled arguments in the past.
But he described her as a smart, loving and very spiritual. One of his lasting memories of Weiland, who worked as a pharmacy technician, was a little card with her photo that she slipped into his lunch pail one day. “Danny, God and I thought of you today,” the handwritten card read.
Franzgrote said he remains angry at Lesner.
“She was taken advantage of, I guarantee you that. I believe she was,” Franzgrote said. “I don’t know why else he would want (to go) there.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun