Chicago’s mayor said on Thursday he will release video footage of the October 2014 fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old black teenager and not fight a judge’s order to make the video public.
Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer, including multiple times in the back. Police said he was lunging at them with a knife, but a lawyer who has seen the video says it shows McDonald moving away from the police with a knife in his hand.
McDonald’s death came at a time of heated national debate and protests over police use of lethal force, especially against blacks.
Freelance journalist Brandon Smith sued the police after they denied his request for the video under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, and a judge decided in Smith’s favor on Thursday.
“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,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
In April, Chicago agreed to pay $5 million in civil damages to McDonald’s family, which had been exploring filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Emanuel said the city will release the video by Nov. 25, the deadline set on Thursday by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama. Earlier the city had indicated it would appeal the case. The mayor said he expected prosecutors to quickly conclude their year-long investigation of the case.
The Chicago Police Department had said releasing the video could taint ongoing Illinois state and federal investigations of the officer, whose identity and race have not been disclosed by the department.
In an 18-page ruling, Valderrama said the police could not apply an exemption to Freedom of Information Act rules.
Valderrama said the police department failed to show that it was conducting its own investigation of the shooting or that disclosure of the video would interfere with investigations.
Fatal police shootings in Chicago averaged 17 a year between 2008 and 2014, according to data from Chicago’s police review authority. About three-quarters of people shot by Chicago police were black; the city’s population is about one-third black. Almost all shootings were found to be justified.
Teen’s mother apprehensive
“We have a duty to hold accountable the people that we pay to protect us,” said Smith, the freelance journalist who filed the lawsuit after what he described as months of delays from the police department over his Freedom of Information Act request for the video. “In this case they fought transparency.”
After the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked protests around the United States, some cities have opted to immediately release video of shootings in the name of transparency. Other cities have been reluctant to release them.
“This is about justice; this is about transparency. I hope what we are doing today sets precedent not only in Chicago but across the nation,” said community activist William Calloway.
Jeffrey Neslund, a lawyer for McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter, said she was not part of the battle to release the video.
“Like any mother, she doesn’t want to see the execution of her son over and over again on YouTube and television. It’s graphic, it’s disturbing, and it’s crystal clear that Laquan was not attacking or lunging at any police officer,” Neslund said.
Neslund, a former prosecutor, told the Chicago Tribune that the video was shocking.
“It shocks the conscience,” Neslund said. “The video was disturbing. It was described accurately by one of the witnesses as an execution. He was on the ground, and the police officer kept shooting.”
Another source who had seen the video said it was worse than the University of Cincinnati police shooting of Samuel DuBose, which was denounced by Ohio prosecutors and resulted in a murder charge against the officer.
“It’s worse than anything that’s come out this summer on police cases anywhere,” the source told the Tribune. “He starts walking away from the officers. The first shot, he spins and falls to the ground. Then the officer continues to shoot, and intermittently, you see the body twitching and jerking from the rounds.”
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)