Michael McDunnah has made it a habit to take his phone out and shoot video of police officers interacting with civilians.
That practice, he says, was spurred by high-profile instances of police using force.
“Oscar Grant. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. I can give you a list of names of why I do that,” he said. “If I get 30 seconds of boring video, there’s no harm done and I can delete it. But I feel like that’s a responsibility we have — to at least bear witness to what is happening.”
Just before the evening rush hour on Friday, Feb. 28, the 50-year-old was about to take the Red Line home after catching a movie at a theater in Streeterville.
After walking down the steps at the Grand station, McDunnah saw two police officers struggling to arrest a man.
The officers have since been identified as Melvina Bogard and Bernard Butler, both of whom were assigned to the CPD’s Mass Transit Unit. They were trying to arrest Ariel Roman, who was unarmed, because he had been walking between train cars on the Red Line.
Standing within spitting distance of the skirmish, McDunnah took out his phone and started recording.
“I’m hoping that my video is not going to be anything remarkable and that I can delete it when I’m done,” McDunnah recalled. “And, for a while, I thought that’s what would happen because they were not beating on this guy.
“They were struggling very hard to get control of him and he was not cooperating, but, you know, for the first minute or so I thought ‘OK, well, they’re making a good-faith effort to try to control this guy nonviolently.’ I mean, they tased him, so that’s violence, but they weren’t hitting him in the head or anything.”
McDunnah’s concerns were quickly raised when he heard Butler telling Bogard to shoot the man they were trying to arrest.
Seconds later, Bogard shot Roman in the abdomen, just a few feet from where McDunnah was standing. Roman ran up an escalator and Bogard fired again, striking him in the buttocks. Nearly two weeks later, Roman is still hospitalized and the second bullet remains lodged in his body, according to his attorneys.
McDunnah opted not to follow Bogard and Butler up the escalator, and droves of police soon swarmed the area. After taking a few minutes to collect himself, McDunnah’s focus quickly turned to the video he just recorded.
“Once I realized what I had, once the shooting took place, then my only concern was to keep that video safe and to make sure that people saw it,” he said. “And that’s why I posted it right away to Twitter because, at least in the moment, that seemed like the safest and surest thing to do with it.”
“I didn’t want to sit on it and see what the official narrative was gonna be and then send the video to somebody. I just wanted to get it out.”
McDunnah’s video spread like wildfire, well before the CPD issued a statement about the shooting. It’s been viewed millions of times in less than two weeks.
After the video gained traction, interim CPD Supt. Charlie Beck asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to drop the criminal charges against Roman, while also asking prosecutors to review the actions of the two officers involved.
The shooting happened just hours after Lightfoot and Beck had jointly launched a crackdown on CTA crime that called for adding 50 officers to the mass transit unit, assigning four detectives exclusively to solving CTA crimes and building a strategic deployment center specifically for mass transit.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability quickly recommended Bogard and Butler be stripped of their police powers, and Beck agreed.
Roman filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the two officers.
McDunnah said he was interviewed last week by representatives from COPA, the state’s attorney’s office, as well as the FBI.
“To me, this was just such an absurd escalation of this incident and just introducing this element of violence into a situation that it never should have been in,” he said. “There’s no good in any of this. But I’m gratified to see that the system is moving more quickly and efficiently than it has done in the past. To the extent that the video helped in that, I’m glad it was helpful.”