Paul Vallas gets help in Chicago mayoral bid from ex-officer in Laquan McDonald scandal

The now-retired Chicago cop was named in two legal cases that cost the city more than $5 million. He gave $5,000 to the Vallas campaign.

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Chicago mayoral candidate Paul Vallas speaks during a mayoral forum organized by Health and Medicine Policy Research Group and Chicago Women Take Action Alliance at the Chicago Temple in the Loop Jan. 14.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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Paul Vallas’ campaign for mayor of Chicago in this month’s election received a financial boost from a retired city police officer who was named in the costly civil litigation stemming from the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The Vallas For Mayor political fund reported getting a contribution of $5,000 from former cop Richard E. Hagen on June 30, according to campaign finance disclosure reports. Hagen has also publicly supported Vallas on Twitter.

Court records show Hagen was named in two settlement agreements prompted by the infamous shooting of the 17-year-old McDonald in 2014. The two legal cases cost the city a total of more than $5 million.

A campaign spokesperson for Vallas, who recently said his campaign vets contributors, declined to comment on the contribution from Hagen on Thursday. Hagen did not reply to messages.

The support from Hagen could bolster complaints from rivals in the nonpartisan mayoral race and others who suggest Vallas, a former city schools chief, has aligned himself too closely with police.

Vallas last month was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7, the union for the city’s roughly 10,000 rank-and-file cops.

One mayoral rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, slammed Vallas for accepting the FOP’s endorsement, saying he was “cozying up” to a “far-right” union that has endorsed Republicans for governor and president, and García said Vallas’ policies on crime would “ensure no police accountability.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who’s seeking reelection, said Vallas’ endorsement from the FOP — which backed former President Donald Trump and Darren Bailey, the losing GOP nominee for governor in November — showed Vallas was not the “lifelong Democrat” he said he was.

Vallas was a consultant for the police union in its contract talks with the Lightfoot administration in 2020.

Police abuse and mistreatment of Chicagoans, in particular Black residents, has long been a serious problem that mayors have faced. Lightfoot herself campaigned in 2019 on a police reform platform, after one of the most infamous cases in Chicago police history, the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald.

On Oct. 20, 2014, officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald as he swung a knife aimlessly and walked past officers near a Burger King in Archer Heights. After the shooting, Hagen, then a detective, canvassed for witnesses and recovered video from a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street, according to investigatory records released by the city’s Office of the Inspector General.

Hagen was later asked to compile all of the video evidence that was collected and shared it in meetings with police management, who had “no issues with it,” according to the inspector general’s office. Hagen met routinely with other police officials to review the video evidence that was collected, according to the inspector general’s office. Despite the scrutiny, another detective said “everyone was in agreement with the investigation and the conclusions reached as documented.”

Then in November 2015, city officials released the dashcam video that disproved the initial narrative put forth by police that McDonald was acting erratically and had lunged at officers with the knife.

When video from the Burger King was released the following month, there was a large gap of missing footage that included the time of the shooting. Prosecutors, however, said there was no evidence the tape had been tampered with.

The inspector general’s office later found glaring problems indicative of a large-scale cover-up. The watchdog recommended 11 police officials — but not Hagen — be fired for making false statements and that four more face discipline for violating department policies.

Van Dyke was later found guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery, and he was sentenced to more than six years in prison in January 2019. He resigned from the police department and was released from prison last February.

Hagen was not singled out for punishment by the inspector general. But he was named in the settlement with McDonald’s family and in another case against the city stemming from the police shooting.

The first settlement was approved by a Cook County judge in August 2015. McDonald’s family won $5 million without filing a lawsuit. The family’s settlement agreement, which is referenced in a petition filed in Cook County Circuit Court to resolve McDonald’s estate, named Van Dyke, Hagen and four other police officials. The city denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement agreement, which didn’t detail any specific allegations against Hagen and the other cops who were named.

Hagen also was a defendant in a federal lawsuit the city settled for $100,000 with Alma Benitez, a witness to the McDonald shooting who alleged that police pushed her to change her story.

Hagen retired from the department after 20 years in January 2020 as a detective with a final city salary of $104,580 a year. His pension in 2021 was nearly $53,000, according to data compiled by the Illinois Answers Project.

On Twitter, a person identifying himself as Hagen has referenced the McDonald case during a couple of online arguments recently with critics of police and Vallas. After defending Vallas’ appearance before a far-right group, Hagen wrote of his involvement in the McDonald case, saying, “There was an issue at a Burger King. Fortunately for me it was provable that the system was not recording at the time. I recovered or handled the videos on this that you would have seen.”

In another Twitter debate, in April, Hagen sought to rebut an antagonist who said Chicago police cannot rebuild trust unless they “quit denying the things like the murder of Laquan McDonald.”

Hagen replied: “You do not understand what actually happened in the McDonald case.”

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