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Inspector general’s McDonald probe to shift next to police brass

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson| Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Even after Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson decides whether to fire 10 officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation will continue to determine whether police brass were part of a code of silence.

Ferguson has recommended all 10 officers be fired for giving accounts of the McDonald shooting that did not jibe with a police vehicle’s dashcam video that clearly shows officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 rounds while the teenager was walking away from police with a knife in his hand. That’s in addition to a police supervisor, who retired this week.

On Oct. 21, 2014, the day after the shooting, an executive committee comprised of police brass watched the video. They saw Van Dyke empty his weapon, even though McDonald apparently posed no threat, with many of the shots fired while the teenager was already on the ground.

Then-Police Supt. Garry McCarthy presided over that meeting, with members of his executive staff including then-First Deputy Superintendent Al Wysinger, then-Chief of Detectives John Escalante, then-Deputy Chief David McNaughton, the incident commander on the scene the night of the shooting who abruptly retired earlier this week, and others. Escalante also announced his retirement this week.

The question at the center of Ferguson’s follow-up report is what did the police brass in attendance at that meeting do with the information they saw?

Did they read the police reports that clearly contradicted the video? And if they did, what did they do about it?

Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the police department, said the inspector general’s report is “currently being reviewed by the department. Until this review is complete and the reporting made public by the external investigating agencies, CPD is not in a position to comment on the specifics of the investigation.”

McCarthy moved quickly to strip Van Dyke of his police powers and put him on paid desk duty. He also contacted the Independent Police Review Authority, which launched an investigation.

But the inspector general will ask why the officers who allegedly covered for Van Dyke were not disciplined or, at the very least, stripped of their police powers pending a further investigation.

In December, Mayor Rahm Emanuel apologized for the “systematic breakdown” that culminated in the “totally avoidable” police shooting death of McDonald and acknowledged a “code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department.

Ferguson’s follow-up report is aimed at determining how far up the chain of command that code of silence allegedly went in the McDonald shooting.

“There’s a general notion of culpability that folks carry [after seeing the video], but you have to tie it to a specific order, rule or procedure” to take disciplinary action, said a source familiar with the ongoing investigation.

“Not everyone saw the paper [reports]. They need to be asked, what did you see? How did you square that up?” (with the video). Supervisors are culpable for what the people under them do in a general sense. But, you need to show there was specific knowledge and they failed to raise a question.”

Police brass who aren’t part of Ferguson’s scathing initial report will ultimately be called to task, sources said.

“It’s a continuing investigation,” a source said. “The public demands [action] against those we know who lied and gave false testimony.”

Emanuel fired McCarthy on Dec. 1, eight days after Emanuel complied with a court order to release the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on the same day.

After seeing the video, McCarthy stripped Van Dyke of his police powers and referred the case to Scott Ando, then-executive director of IPRA. Van Dyke remained on the police payroll until his indictment.

The mayor has emphatically denied keeping the dash-cam video of the McDonald shooting under wraps to get past the election.

But he has acknowledged that he “added to the suspicion and distrust” of everyday Chicagoans by blindly following and not questioning the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising ongoing criminal investigations.

For more than four years, McCarthy was Emanuel’s first call in the morning and the mayor’s last call at night. The former superintendent described the harrowing video in detail for the mayor in the days after the shooting, a source familiar with that matter said.

It’s unclear when Emanuel first saw the video itself, but he has said he was unaware of the conflicts between the video and the police reports until December 2015 when those reports became public — more than a year after the shooting.

The police purge recommended by Ferguson, as well as the inspector general’s continuing investigation of police brass, could not come at a more difficult time for Emanuel.

For months, the mayor has been trying to craft a new system of police accountability to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the McDonald video.

And he has been trying just as desperately to coax Chicago Police officers out of a defensive crouch blamed in part for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings and a precipitous drop in police activity.

Meanwhile, the Fraternal Order of Police is urging officers to turn down requests for “non-mandatory overtime” over the Labor Day weekend to protest “continued disrespect of Chicago Police officers and the killing of officers across our country.”

Emanuel is famous for controlling virtually every move the Chicago Police Department makes. On Wednesday, he was asked again why he isn’t taking the lead in the McDonald case by calling for the firing or discipline of officers connected to the case.

“We have a history where the fifth floor weighed in on personnel decisions and they were (rife) with politics — one not too far away in historic terms,” Emanuel said.

He added, “The history of Chicago of fifth floor influence is lengthy and rich. So therefore I’ve put a Chinese wall between the fifth floor and those decisions.”

“If you have the city or the mayor weigh in, then your other question will be, ‘why did you weigh in on a (personnel) decision?’”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said City Hall needs to stay out of CPD personnel decisions. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said City Hall needs to stay out of CPD personnel decisions. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Contributing: Stefano Esposito