Lawyer seeking video of death in police custody accuses mayor of ‘empty promise’

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Two weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel embraced a new policy calling for the release of audio and video of police-involved shootings and other serious incidents within 60 days, an attorney is slamming City Hall for withholding video connected to a man’s death in police custody last summer in Brighton Park.

Meanwhile, the unit in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office responsible for investigating police misconduct is looking into the July 20 death of 24-year-old Heriberto Godinez Jr., an official confirmed.

Godinez died after police were called to a report of a burglary in the 3000 block of West Pershing early that day. They found Godinez and suspected him of being involved, police said at the time. He was “sweating heavily with labored breathing,” police said. He was eventually pronounced dead at the scene.

Now his family’s lawyer, Torreya Hamilton, is fighting City Hall in court over its denial of her request for video and audio that captured the incident, including “squad car dashcam video and audio recordings.” She sued the city and accused it of using the same arguments it used to withhold video of the notorious police shooting death of Laquan McDonald. The judge in that case sided against the city.

Since that ruling, Emanuel said he would “work to ensure” that recommendations by his Task Force on Police Accountability to release video of such incidents within 60 days “become the rule going forward.” The city is trying to determine the best method for posting the information online.

“As of right now, for the Godinez family, this is an empty promise made by the mayor because it’s not being fulfilled by the people who work for the mayor,” Hamilton said.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said in a statement the city is working toward the release of the Godinez video, as well as others.

“The city of Chicago recently adopted a new policy recommended by the Task Force on Police Accountability that outlines the timing for releasing evidence and videos in police-involved shootings and other serious incidents,” McCaffrey said. “At the same time, the city announced it would release the evidence and videos for all currently open cases, including this occurrence, within the next few months.”

Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said the Godinez case “is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Professional Standards Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office.” She declined to comment further. A spokesman for the Independent Police Review Authority, which reviews all such incidents, said his agency is also still looking into Godinez’s death.

Meanwhile, Hamilton said Godinez’s family is still trying to figure out why he died.

“The video would go a long way toward explaining what happened,” Hamilton said.

Officers called paramedics to help Godinez, but police said he became unresponsive despite the medical intervention. Hamilton said he died after police put him in the back of a squad car.

The Cook County Medical Examiner determined the cause of Godinez’s death to be “combined cocaine and ethanol toxicity.” However, it left undetermined the manner of his death. It said Godinez “demonstrated agitated behavior with self-injury which allegedly continued upon placement into a transport vehicle.” It cited reports and “video tape evidence.”

Several superficial injuries were documented during Godinez’s autopsy, “but there were no lethal blunt force or penetrating injuries,” according to the medical examiner. Noting the neck “felt a bit loose,” it said there was no evidence of a broken neck or injuries to the larynx.

“The sudden, unexpected collapse and death of Mr. Godinez most likely represents a cardiac dysrhythmia following intense physical exertion while under the influence of cocaine and ethanol,” according to the office’s findings.

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