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EDITORIAL: Let us see what’s been learned about cops’ actions in Laquan shooting

Chicagoans need to peruse these documents to fully understand what happened and to chart a course toward full reform of the Chicago Police Department.

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune, Pool, File)

After Laquan McDonald was shot and killed in 2014, what did the police do?

To this day, the most exhaustive review of how the cops conducted themselves remains a secret.

And that is indefensible.

EDITORIAL

A judge should allow the release of the full review immediately. The people of Chicago have every right to know what’s in it. Even the author of the review, city Inspector General Joe Ferguson, can’t see any reason to keep it secret.

The public, Ferguson says, does not know “the full scope” of the story.

Ferguson’s 2016 review consists of 16 reports, which looked at the conduct of 16 officers as well as the Chicago Police Department’s overall institutional response.

Much of what Ferguson found has since become public knowledge in other ways, most notably as a result of the trials of Jason Van Dyke — the officer convicted of murdering McDonald — and three other officers who were acquitted of attempting to cover up for Van Dyke. But more undoubtedly is to be found in the pages of Ferguson’s full review.

Ferguson conducted his investigation, wrote his reports and turned them over to the Police Department. They became the basis of disciplinary actions, including suspensions, firings and forced resignations. But City Hall has declined to release the full reports ever since because of a gag order, formally termed a “decorum order,” imposed by Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan. The city Law Department also says the municipal code prohibits city from releasing such reports, but Ferguson argues the prohibition applies only to his office. The Law Department also says any release might improperly affect disciplinary cases pending against four officers before the Police Board, but the inspector general says the Police Board has no objections.

Gaughan, the trial judge in Van Dyke’s case, entered the gag order at the outset of the trial to keep certain documents from public view and to keep participants from talking publicly. He did not lift the gag order after a verdict was reached, however, though this is what judges normally do. And the order was too broad to begin with.

For example, Gaughan sanctioned Van Dyke for saying in interviews that he shot McDonald because he feared for the lives of himself and other officers. That was overreaching. A defendant should always have the right to proclaim his innocence, in any forum.

Maintaining the gag order now is even less defensible. Van Dyke’s trial is over, and the legal battles going forward are likely to center strictly on whether he should be resentenced. No one is asking for a new trial, which means there’s no further justification — if ever there was — for the order.

If CPD were to release Ferguson’s reports without Gaughan’s permission, it’s conceivable the judge could hold the department in contempt of court. Releasing the reports in defiance of the gag order could touch off all sorts of litigation.

Ferguson, who was called into the case because the city’s old Independent Police Review Authority was being phased out, strongly asserts that the reports should be made public as soon as is legally possible. At a minimum, the City of Chicago and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon should call on Gaughan to lift the decorum order.

If Gaughan refuses to lift the gag order, then we urge the Illinois Supreme Court to work quickly to resolve a petition filed on Monday, by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, seeking a new sentencing hearing for Van Dyke. Once that matter is settled, Gaughan will have even less reason to keep the gag order in place.

Chicagoans deserve to know exactly what’s in Ferguson’s full review. They have a right to judge for themselves if the inspector general’s findings will lead to sufficient sanctions and internal reforms or if those will fall short.

Secrecy has been at the core of this scandal all along. It was City Hall’s reluctance to release a video of the shooting for 13 months that had protesters marching in the streets.

Release Ferguson’s review.

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