City drops opposition to release of police-shooting video

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Even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the City Council last month about the need to rebuild trust in the Chicago Police Department, his lawyers were asking a federal judge not to release video depicting the police shooting death of Cedrick Chatman.

Now the city has done an about-face, suddenly dropping its opposition Wednesday to the release of videos that purportedly depict yet another black teenager’s death in an encounter with Chicago Police.

In a federal court filing, Senior Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan Green wrote that the city’s Task Force on Police Accountability will consider whether to change the city’s policy not to publicly release videos related to alleged police misconduct.

“While the city awaits further guidance from the task force, it is working to strike the right balance between being as transparent as possible and protecting the judicial process,” Green wrote. “In this case, the city has determined that it will no longer object to the release of the videos.”

Green will ask U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman on Thursday to undo previous orders prohibiting the videos’ release. The judge had already been expected to rule on a similar request by the Chatman family. It was unclear Wednesday how the videos would be released if the judge grants the request.

Brian Coffman, a Chatman family attorney, called the city’s latest move “political gamesmanship” and pointed out it “could have been done over a month ago.”

“Mayor Emanuel is reacting again to another situation that he has known about for a long, long time and he has not done anything about it,” Coffman said.

The shooting happened after Chatman, 17, allegedly stole a car on the afternoon of Jan. 7, 2013. His two friends were involved in an earlier incident with Chatman but were not in the stolen car at the time Chatman drove away. Chicago Police officers Lou Toth and Kevin Fry found Chatman in a gray Dodge Charger at East 75th and Jeffery, pulled over and jumped out with weapons drawn, records show. Toth came around the front of the Charger, while Fry ran around the rear.

Chatman bolted out of the car and ran south, away from the officers. Toth ran directly behind Chatman, while Fry followed diagonally, according to a lawsuit filed by the Chatman family.

Officers claimed Chatman made a “slight” turn of his upper torso to the right, prompting Fry to fire his weapon four times, according to the lawsuit. Toth claimed he did not fire, even though Coffman has said five bullets were recovered at the scene. Chatman was shot twice, Coffman said.

Prosecutors chose not to file charges against the officers after reviewing an investigation conducted by the Independent Police Review Authority, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has said. Andy Hale, a lawyer representing the officers, said in a statement Wednesday that “a nationally recognized police use of force expert” has concluded the shooting was justified.

“As these videos will demonstrate, the facts in this incident are clear,” Hale said. “Officers Fry and Toth identified a carjacked vehicle and had reason to believe that the suspect was armed. After disobeying the officer’s order to exit the vehicle, the suspect reached to the floor and ran out of the vehicle with a dark object in his hand. As he was fleeing, the suspect turned toward the officers, with the dark object in his right hand, causing one officer to open fire.”

That dark object turned out to be an iPhone box.

Another Chatman family lawyer has said the incident was caught on a “blue-light” camera on the northwest corner of 75th and Jeffery, two security cameras on South Shore High School on the southwest corner of the intersection, and on surveillance cameras from a business on the southeast corner.

Prosecutors charged Chatman’s accomplices in the alleged carjacking, Akeem Clarke and Martel Odum, with Chatman’s murder for their role in the events that triggered his fatal shooting. They later pleaded guilty to lesser crimes.

However, the lawyer for Lorenzo Davis, a former top IPRA investigator who said he was fired for resisting orders to justify police shootings, has said the Chatman case led to Davis’ ouster. Davis himself told the Sun-Times that Chatman’s death was a murder.

City’s motion dropping its opposition to video

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