Chicago police ordered to release video of teen shot 16 times

By Steven Porter

Chicago police must release video of an officer fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy 16 times last year on the city’s Southwest Side, a Cook County judge ordered Thursday.

The footage, which Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass warned “could tear Chicago apart,” was captured by a dashboard camera in a police cruiser that responded Oct. 20, 2014, to South Pulaski Road at 41st Street.

Laquan McDonald, who was armed with a small knife and reportedly had PCP in his system, allegedly punctured tires on a police car and damaged its windshield, ignoring officer commands to drop the weapon.

Witnesses contest police reports that McDonald, who is black, lunged at authorities aggressively, prompting the shooting.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, fired all 16 rounds, striking McDonald’s chest, neck, back, arms and right leg, according to the Cook County medial examiner’s office.

In April, the City Council unanimously approved a $5 million settlement over the shooting. In August, independent journalist Brandon Smith filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court accusing the Chicago Police Department of violating the Illinois Freedom of Information Act in declining to release video of the shooting.

“Shootings of civilians by police officers is an issue of paramount importance in Chicago and elsewhere,” Smith declared in the complaint. “In order to evaluate the conduct of officers and hold them accountable, it is critical that the public receive full and complete information about officer-involved shootings as quickly as possible.”

Citing a current federal investigation into the matter, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said last week that now isn’t the right time to release the video. Smith contends in his complaint the denial was politically motivated to enable the administration to “better manage negative press attention and avoid embarrassment.”

Dealing a blow to Emanuel’s position, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office released a five-page opinion Wednesday agreeing with Smith that Chicago police violated the FOIA by failing to release the video as requested.

Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled Thursday that pending investigations by the state’s attorney’s office, the FBI, U.S. Attorney General’s Office and a federal grand jury don’t authorize Chicago police, under Illinois law, to withhold the video.

Attorneys for the department asked for a stay, which would delay enforcement of Thursday’s ruling until the Illinois Appellate Court had weighed in on the issue, but Valderrama denied the request, ordering Chicago police to deliver a copy of the video to Smith on or before Nov. 25.

Emanuel issued a statement indicating the city will forgo an appeal and comply with the order.

Smith, his attorney and community activist William Calloway addressed the press following the hearing, praising the judge’s ruling while acknowledging that the video’s release could spur protests.

“I think the public has a right to be angry about what may have happened there that day,” Smith told reporters.

Calloway said his collaboration with Smith reflects a partnership needed for society at large to address its problems.

“He’s from the North Side. I’m from the South Side. We came together,” Calloway said. “He’s white. I’m black. But this is about justice. This is about transparency. We came together to do that today.”

Tio Hardiman, executive director of the non-profit organization Violence Interrupters, said this case is merely the latest example of why Chicago needs to rid itself of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

“It appears that McCarthy is giving police officers a right to shoot and ask questions later in Chicago,” Hardiman said, naming several others killed by Chicago cops in recent years.

“McCarthy is a cancer,” Hardiman said, adding that the superintendent will continue to fuel rage against law enforcement and “lead to the downfall of Chicago if the mayor doesn’t fire him.”

Agreeing that protests could follow if the video goes viral, Hardiman called on protestors to keep their demonstrations peaceful.

“We have to make that clear because there’s no room in the world for more violence,” he said, “so people have to be peaceful, organized and stand up for Laquan McDonald.”

Photo at top: Attorney Matthew Topic (left), his client Brandon Smith and community activist William Calloway hold an impromptu press conference Thursday, Nov. 19, after winning a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department. (Steven Porter/Medill)