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City won’t appeal judge’s order to reveal cop-shooting video

A Cook County judge ruled Thursday that the Chicago Police Department should make public by Nov. 25 a dashboard cam video of a white police officer shooting an African-American teen 16 times.

About two hours after Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama’s ruling, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who for weeks sought to keep the video hidden from the public, abruptly reversed course and announced he would not seek to have the judge’s decision overturned on appeal.

The video shows the officer repeatedly firing into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s body on Oct. 20, 2014, even as five other responding officers show restraint. Mike Robbins, an attorney who represents McDonald’s family, said he’s seen the video and it shows the teenager was walking away from police at the time of the shooting.

In a statement released after the judge’s ruling Thursday afternoon, Emanuel said: “Police officers are entrusted to uphold the law, and to provide safety to our residents. In this case unfortunately, it appears an officer violated that trust at every level.”

Emanuel went on: “As a result, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority promptly sent this case and the evidence to state and federal prosecutors who have been investigating it for almost a year. In accordance with the judge’s ruling the City will release the video by November 25, which we hope will provide prosecutors time to expeditiously bring their investigation to a conclusion so Chicago can begin to heal.”

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Thursday evening he could offer no information on any preventative measures the police department might take in preparation for what some speculate could be a violent response in the streets of Chicago to the graphic images contained in the video.

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Emanuel, who has made a push for transparency a key issue of his administration, had been fighting an uphill public relations battle in his quest to keep the video from the public eye until the “appropriate time.”

Emanuel, in an argument repeated by city attorneys in court Thursday, claimed the Chicago Police Department could not release the video because it was part of an ongoing investigation. However, Judge Valderrama swatted down the argument, noting that CPD isn’t conducting an ongoing investigation but rather the feds are, and the state law that the CPD is citing doesn’t apply in that case.

Valderrama also denied a request by the city to withhold the video pending an appeal of his decision — giving the city a small window of time to secure a decision by the Illinois Appellate Court.

Had the city ultimately decided to appeal Valderrama’s decision, it would have had several hurdles in its path. Not the least of which would be an Appellate Court that may or may not have shared a sense of urgency and return a decision before the Nov. 25 deadline.

Laquan McDonald | provided

Laquan McDonald | provided

Thursday’s ruling comes in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made by freelance journalist Brandon Smith.

Asked Thursday outside of Valderrama’s Daley Center courtroom if he was concerned that the public might have a violent reaction to the video, Smith said “I’m concerned about everyone’s safety.”

But he also pointed out that a potentially incendiary video of a police shooting in Cincinnati that was released this summer did not lead to violence.

“A video can really help jumpstart public outrage that leads to reform,” he said.

Emanuel’s initial reluctance to release the video also ran counter to an opinion released Wednesday by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan — a Democratic ally — who stated that withholding the video violated state FOIA laws.

The city could wait until the last minute of the Wednesday deadline to release the video. A city spokeswoman would not offer specifics, noting only that the deadline would be met.

Dan Herbert, the attorney who represents Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who fatally shot McDonald, said Thursday that he would be concerned for his client’s safety if the video was released.

In this “day and age” there’s the possibility that someone could try to harm Van Dyke because they don’t understand the context in which the shooting occurred.

Van Dyke contends that McDonald — who was found to have the drug PCP in his bloodstream — was moving toward him and that he opened fire to protect himself.  The officer has been stripped of his police powers and is currently on desk duty.

Robbins, who represents McDonald’s family, said Thursday the public should know the truth.

“I think what’s important is that the community be told the truth about what happened, about how he was shot,” Robbins said. “The fact that there was a narrative put out there by the Chicago police, by the union initially, that a police officer had to shoot [McDonald] in self defense, that he was approaching a police officer and lunged at a police officer with a knife, is not true. He was shot while he was walking away.”

Robbins said it was “very troubling” that the false narrative was circulated up until the City Council took the unusual move earlier this year of settling with McDonald’s family for $5 million before they’d even filed a lawsuit.

McDonald’s mother has not seen the video. If she had it her way, she would keep it from being released. “What mother would want to see the execution of her son over and over again on the nightly news or YouTube,” Robbins said.

The incident started when a man called 911 to report that a knife-wielding offender had threatened him and was attempting to break into vehicles in an Archer Heights trucking yard at 41st and Kildare.

Two police officers responded to the call on the Southwest Side and found McDonald about a block away holding a knife in his right hand, Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said at the time of the settlement in April.

When the teenager was ordered to drop the knife, he ignored the demand and kept walking along 40th Street toward Pulaski away from the officers.

Patton then described how one of the officers followed McDonald on foot “kind of beside” the teenager while the other officer followed behind in a marked squad car and called a dispatcher to request a back-up unit with a Taser.

The slow pursuit continued until McDonald neared Pulaski, potentially endangering civilians. That’s when the officer in the squad car pulled in front of the teenager to block his path.

According to Patton, McDonald responded by using the knife to puncture one of the squad car’s front tires and struck the windshield with a knife before continuing through a Burger King parking lot and onto Pulaski.

By that point, two additional squad cars reported to the scene, one of them equipped with a dashboard camera that recorded the deadly shooting. The squad car with the camera followed behind McDonald.

The other squad car pulled up beside, then in front of the teenager and both officers jumped out with their guns drawn. One of those two officers then opened fire and shot McDonald 16 times, all of it captured on videotape.

In a statement issued Thursday, Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer (6th), chairman of City Council Black Caucus, said “We welcome the addition of body cameras, and data recording practices in “Stop and Frisk” situations, however we want to ensure that there is enough oversight to ensure that these programs are working.”

“We need an explanation as to why Officer Jason Van Dyke, who killed Mr. McDonald, is still on the payroll of the city of Chicago and has not been charged with a crime?

“We need to stop the practice of spending millions of dollars to pay for official misconduct instead of investing dollars in the economies of our communities and programs for young men like Mr. McDonald who are so often ignored by our society until there is a tragedy.”

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago Police officer, said he has grave concerns about how residents in his South Side ward will react to the video.

“I’m very concerned about what took place and how sensitive people are who have seen the video. It’s a situation that’s pretty ugly,” Cochran said Thursday.

“I’m concerned that people will take the faults of one police officer and accuse the whole Police Department of being bad apples when it’s no reflection on officers who do the right thing so often.”

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), former chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said releasing the video is the price that must be paid if the Chicago Police Department is ever going to confront and move beyond the disparate treatment of African-American men by a “handful” of rogue officers.

On Thursday, Brookins was asked whether he was concerned that the dashboard video of one Chicago Police officer unleashing the barrage of gunfire that killed McDonald as at least five other responding officers exercised restraint would trigger civil unrest seen in other major cities that as, so far, escaped Chicago.

“I don’t think there will be rioting in the streets. I hope there will be no trouble. I hope the public would understand that the city has already acknowledged wrongdoing by paying $5 million,” Brookins said.

“I saw the family say they didn’t want it out. They appear to be at peace with the justice they’ve received from the city. If anything, there may be outrage lashed out at the state’s attorney and the U.S. attorney for not filing charges if it is deemed by the public looking at the tape that there was clearly wrongdoing.”

And where should the public direct that anger?

“At the individual officer, but not at the police and the city. And there’s an election for state’s attorney in March and there is redress in the hands of the people,” he said.

Patton said at the time of the settlement that although McDonald had an “extensive juvenile record,” he had recently secured a summer job through a church social agency. Just a month before the shooting, he had also enrolled in the Sullivan Alternative School for troubled youth, where his mentor was prepared to testify that McDonald had good grades at the time of his death and was “making progress in turning his life around,” Patton said.