A federal judge found Tuesday that a Pilsen man invoked his right to counsel when authorities tried to get him to identify himself as the person wearing a “Joker” mask during the May 2020 riots in Chicago, leaving some comments he made unusable by prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood said Timothy O’Donnell sought the help of a lawyer when an FBI agent and a Chicago police detective asked him June 2, 2020, about a photo of a person in a clown mask sitting on a bridge above the spray-painted words, “KILL COPS.”
Prosecutors say O’Donnell set fire to a Chicago police vehicle while wearing that mask in the 200 block of North State Street on May 30, 2020. His case is among the most high-profile to result from last year’s rioting and looting in Chicago in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
O’Donnell repeatedly denied setting the police vehicle on fire during his interview and told authorities, “I do not stand for the exploitation of me and using me as a puppet to create an image,” according to Wood’s 13-page order Tuesday.
The ruling amounts to a partial victory for O’Donnell’s defense attorneys, Michael Leonard and Steve Greenberg. But authorities had also tied O’Donnell to the incident through a “PRETTY” tattoo seen on the neck of the person wearing the mask, which matches a tattoo of O’Donnell’s. Prosecutors have also said investigators found a similar mask during a search of an apartment where O’Donnell lived.
In addition, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Fuentes found last year that video of the incident “is indeed quite damning,” in part prompting him to rule that O’Donnell should be held in custody while awaiting trial. Fuentes also noted then that, in addition to allegedly wearing a “Joker” mask, O’Donnell “self-reported that he has gone by the name ‘The Riddler’ in the past.”
O’Donnell is set to go to trial Feb. 7. He remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to comments made by Leonard during a status hearing in the case Tuesday.
Wood’s ruling revolved around O’Donnell’s comments during his June 2, 2020, interview after the FBI agent showed O’Donnell the photo of the man in the mask on the bridge above the words “KILL COPS.”
O’Donnell allegedly said, “Yes, that is me, and they so nicely got me um- with uh- it’s all exploitation of image. See ‘kill cops’ and then an image of me as the clown,” according to Wood’s order.
The FBI agent asked O’Donnell to initial the photograph, and O’Donnell asked, “You want to — you just want to make the correlation of me as that man in the — ?” When the FBI agent answered, “Yeah, just you saying that ‘Yes, this is me in the picture,” O’Donnell replied, “I would prefer not to sign any kind of documents.”
Though the FBI agent said he wouldn’t force O’Donnell to sign, a Chicago police officer asked O’Donnell, “But is that you?” And that’s when O’Donnell said, “I’m in fear. I’m not going to say anything further on that matter without a lawyer present.”
Wood’s ruling suppressed any statements O’Donnell made about whether he wore the “Joker” mask after he made that comment. The FBI agent went on to ask O’Donnell about a photo of a person in the mask standing next to the CPD vehicle with his hand close to the gas tank. O’Donnell said a photographer asked him to pose there.
“This is an image with the — the — the man in question is being told, you know, by a photographer to check — to check this out, ‘Hey, look what’s going on,’ like, I mean, not ‘Look what’s going on,’ it’s — he wanted an image, and that’s the image he got. He wanted that specific image,” O’Donnell allegedly said.
The FBI agent asked O’Donnell, “What if we told you we have witnesses that say you’re dancing and having a good time and enjoying yourself and not moving in fear?” O’Donnell replied, “That’s all what an attorney and a court of law — when they are — to be brought up.”
O’Donnell denied setting the vehicle on fire, said “it was supposed to be a peaceful protest” that day, and he said he was there helping bandage people injured by other protesters.