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Juvenile case files show difficult life of Laquan McDonald

The day 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was fatally shot by a Chicago Police officer began with a juvenile court hearing.

Court visits were routine for Laquan by the time he reached his teens. Abuse and neglect complaints that began when he was a toddler had seen him in and out of foster care, and he had a history of arrests for drugs and petty crimes, according to hundreds of pages of child protection case records made public Thursday.

The thick, battered case files present a detailed history of Laquan’s short life — from when he was placed in foster care for the first time at age 3, to just a few hours before he died.

The juvenile court records, which usually are confidential, were made public Thursday in response to court motions filed by the Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets. Attorneys for Laquan’s mother and younger sister opposed release of the records, which comes just weeks after Chicago Police released a dashcam video that shows the teenager being shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014.

One of the last entries in Laquan’s case was made that morning. A juvenile judge overseeing Laquan’s custody case ruled that he would not be moved from his placement with an uncle, with whom he had lived since the death of the great-grandmother, who had cared for him most of his life.

The files date back to when Laquan was placed in foster care in 2000 and include psychological evaluations and case history reports that outline most of his life — with much of the recent entries detailing a dispute between juvenile justice and child services over whether the teen belonged with his family or a youth justice facility.

Laquan’s mother, Tina Hunter, gave birth to him at age 15, and the man listed as his father took no interest in the child custody hearings that punctuated his early life.

Laquan became a ward of the state at 3, after his younger sister suffered a burn on her legs from a radiator, an injury that drew the attention of child-welfare authorities. While in state custody, he was sexually abused by an older boy in his foster home.

He was returned to his mother’s care in 2002, but she lost custody 13 months later, after her boyfriend beat the 6-year-old in front of day care workers. Day care workers had also reported that Tina Hunter had “whipped” her son with a belt for “more than 10 minutes” in March 2003.

At age 6, a psychiatric evaluation found that Laquan was a study in contradictions: a showoff, but shy; a smart child who struggled in school; a bully whose only friends were girls; given to anger, but deeply sad. Early childhood physical abuse had made him aggressive and prone to violent outbursts, the report said.

“To Laquan, being a child means to be weak,” wrote one examiner. “Powerless and subject to the erratic cruelty of the world around him.”

Laquan lived most of his life in the custody of his great-grandmother, Goldie Hunter, who had raised his mother, who also had been a ward of the state.

As a 16-year-old, Laquan would recall how Goldie Hunter despaired at his gang involvement and how he had a “real relationship” with his great-grandmother.

Laquan admitted to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigators that he had joined the New Breeds street gang by age 12, sold drugs for the gang and had been shot at by rivals, but he claimed never to have engaged in gang violence.

Laquan was in juvenile detention when Goldie Hunter was hospitalized shortly before her death. Released on electronic monitoring, Laquan was able to stand at her bedside as she lay in a coma.

“When he held her hand, he stated that he felt her squeeze his hand,” a caseworker reported.
Laquan cut off his monitoring anklet after attending her funeral.

“He noted that this was a bad decision, but he was struggling to cope with her death,” the report states.
Laquan also told caseworkers that he had previous run-ins with police that had ended badly for him. He said he needed stitches to close a cut on his chin after a police officer stepped on his head while he lay on the ground during an arrest for marijuana possession.

During a court appearance for a probation violation in February 2014, he claimed he left the courtroom in a rage and cursed at a sheriff’s deputy, who punched him in the face. Laquan said he spat on the female deputy, who punched him again, the report states.

But court records show Laquan was hoping to be reunited with his mother and sister after Goldie Hunter died. In interviews with DCFS workers, Tina Hunter said she had been overwhelmed as a young parent, and Goldie Hunter had said she hoped her granddaughter would regain custody of the children.

A few months before he died, Laquan reported to caseworkers that his mother was visiting him frequently and attending counseling sessions with him at a juvenile detention facility. After his release, Laquan had been living with his mother, while nominally in the custody of an uncle. His mother had a longtime boyfriend who, unlike the men who beat him as a toddler, was a “gentleman,” he told investigators.

Tina Hunter received a $5 million payout from the city in April to settle litigation over Laquan’s death. Last week, her attorneys said the payment was split between Tina Hunter and Laquan’s 15-year-old sister, who are once again living together. They plan to move to the suburbs.