Images of Cedrick Chatman being gunned down by a Chicago Police officer are more grainy, and filmed from a more distant vantage point than the explosive dashboard camera footage of Laquan McDondald being shot. But lawyers for Chatman’s family say the video tells a similar story: An unarmed black teenager was shot dead as he ran from police.
The public will have a chance to make their own decision based on surveillance camera footage that is sure to be key evidence in an upcoming trial in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Chatman’s family. Video of Chatman’s fatal shooting by Chicago Police officer Kevin Fry was made public Thursday, just over three years after the 17-year-old was shot as he sprinted away from a stolen car with Fry and fellow officer Lou Toth chasing him.
Lawyers for Chatman’s family had sought to make the video public months after the shooting, a move that city attorneys had fought until Wednesday, when they filed a motion to release the footage. City attorneys release audio and video recordings Thursday after a hearing in federal court.
Chatman family attorney Brian Coffman said Chatman’s mother, who did not attend the hearing, wanted the public to see the video to counter the version of events offered by police spokesmen shortly after the shooting.
“What you’re going to see [is] a young kid running away form the police in broad daylight get shot and killed,” Coffman said.
Unlike the dashboard camera video in the McDonald case, which was filmed from street level and just a few yards from the teenager, the footage of Chatman’s shooting was filmed by a police “blue light” camera mounted above the northwest corner of the intersection and cameras on the roof of nearby South Shore High School and a neighboring business.
Video filmed from the high school’s camera shows a silver Dodge Charger, which police said Chatman had stolen in a carjacking moments earlier, coming west on East 75th and stopping behind a white van at the light at Jeffery.
Fry and Toth’s unmarked patrol car pulls up quickly alongside the Charger in the bus lane, and they spring out with their guns drawn. Chatman bolts from the car, sprints across 75th and rounds the corner onto Jeffery.
The two officers give chase, Toth running close behind Chatman and Fry moving more slowly into the intersection. The video has no sound, so it is not clear exactly when Fry fired his first shots; both Chatman and Toth, who was close behind the teenager, appear to duck shortly after Chatman dodges between two parked cars to shake Toth.
As Chatman widened the gap between him and Toth, Fry stopped in the middle of 75th Street and raised his gun in Chatman’s direction — and also toward a pair of pedestrians walking down Jeffery toward the fleeing Chatman — as Toth came around the corner.
Chatman fell to the sidewalk on Jeffery, and Toth immediately kneeled over him, apparently placing the teen in handcuffs.
The officers told investigators Chatman had turned slightly toward them, and had a black object in his hand, prompting Fry to open fire. The object in Chatman’s hand turned out to be a black cellphone box, apparently taken from inside the stolen car.
In police reports, Fry said he fired because he feared Chatman had a gun and was turning toward Toth.
According to a police report, Chatman said to Toth “I give up. I’m shot,” and Toth said he noticed a gunshot wound to Chatman’s arm. The teen died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Both State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the Independent Police Review Authority cleared Toth and Fry of wrongdoing in the shooting.
The IPRA investigator who handled the case said he had ruled the shooting was unjustified and recommended firing Fry. The investigator, former Chicago Police officer and attorney Lorenzo Davis, said he was fired for refusing to exonerate Fry in the shooting, and he has since filed a lawsuit against the city.
Davis said Thursday the video clearly showed that Chatman was not a threat to the officers when Fry opened fire.
“Chatman was trying to get away, and deadly force is a last-resort measure,” Davis said. “Officer Fry did not attempt to apprehend Mr. Chatman in any other way than shooting him.
“They say Chatman turned or made a little movement, but you can’t see that on the video and I doubt it happened. If it did happen, it was still clear Chatman was just trying to get away.”
The video files of Chatman being shot landed in the press and on the Internet Thursday afternoon to little of the outrage that attended the release in November of footage of another teen, Laquan McDonald, being shot 16 times by a police officer Jason Van Dyke. Several hundred demonstrators protested in the Loop the night the McDonald videos were released, despite Alvarez’s announcement that morning that Van Dyke would face murder charges.
Days later, protesters targeted the Michigan Avenue shopping district, disrupting business for retailers on Black Friday, the start of the Christmas shopping season. Four days later, Emanuel announced the firing of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
After the furor over his decision to keep the Laquan McDonald shooting under wraps for 13 months, Emanuel asked his Commission on Police Accountability to establish a new policy on the release of police shooting videos.
The mayor was asked Thursday why he reversed himself and released the Chatman video while awaiting the commission’s recommendations.
“As you know, for 40 or 50 years, actually much longer, but as it relates to, kind of material in an investigation, that policy for the city has always existed. Which is, you don’t do anything to hamper an investigation. We’re in the middle of transition to a different policy as it relates to transparency and letting that material out. And the decision there is exactly an example of that,” the mayor said.
City attorneys as recently as Dec. 23 had filed motions in the Chatman case seeking to keep the video under seal, but Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan Green told U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman on Thursday that the city had reconsidered after Emanuel appointed a task force on police accountability.
“The city recognizes we’re in a new world, with new technology,” Green said, who also noted that “well-founded law” backed the city’s original stance that releasing the video could hamper an investigation or bias a jury pool.
“The city is making policy change in this instance. It is not a change in the law.”
Gettleman said he was disturbed by the city’s reversal, which came the day before he was set to rule on the latest motion by lawyers for Chatman’s family to make the video public.
Gettleman said he was not concerned that releasing the video at this point might taint the jury pool given the “overblown” coverage of the case but did express concern about the reasons stated for city attorney’s last-minute reversal.
“I’m very disturbed about the way this happened. It should not have happened the way it did,” Gettleman said, noting that Chatman’s lawyers’ motion said they wanted the video released to counter public statements about how the shooting played out.
“These cases should not be tried in the press,” Gettleman said. “We shouldn’t be releasing sensitive information or protected information for the interest of trying the case in the press.”
Contributing: Fran Spielman