As more information emerges in connection with Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014, the more it appears that not only was an unjustified murder committed by a person who had sworn to uphold the law, there was a cover-up at every level.
Even worse, the cover-up seems to be still in effect today as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other officials scramble to cover their tracks.
Let’s start with the videotaped incident.
Perhaps the most illuminating public account of the shooting thus far was provided by Stephen Patton, head of the city’s law department, when he appeared at the City Council’s Finance Committee hearing on April 13, 2015. In urging the city to settle the case out of court for $5 million, he noted that Van Dyke, referred to in his testimony as Officer A, was culpable because:
• McDonald did not pose an immediate threat to Van Dyke;
• McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke at the time he was fatally shot;
• None of the other five officers on the scene saw fit to fire their weapons at McDonald, including Van Dyke’s partner;
• No other people were ever placed in danger and
• The use of deadly force in this case was unwarranted.
For the past year, Illinois and federal authorities have supervised a joint grand jury. As proceedings dragged on, Mayor Rahm Emanuel doggedly resisted all calls to release dash-camera video of the shooting.
After privately viewing the video, however, city officials acted quickly when attorneys representing the estate of the dead teen approached the mayor’s office about reaching a financial settlement. The city was in deep negotiations with attorneys for McDonald’s estate while the mayor was facing a tough re-election fight and eventual run-off with Jesus Garcia.
A final deal was struck April 8, a day after Emanuel’s re-election. Five days later, the proposed settlement was presented to the Chicago City Council Finance Committee. Relying on the testimony of corporation counsel Patton, the City Council agreed to a $5 million settlement without a lawsuit being filed or members of City Council looking at the incriminating tape.
There is little doubt that if the videotape had surfaced during the height of Emanuel’s re-election campaign, he would not have won a second term. So, he directed his corporate counsel to fight all efforts to have the tape released.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who is up for re-election next year, said City Hall made the decision to withhold the videotape from the public.
”They asked us our position in telephone calls – we said it was not our preference to release it, but it was ultimately their decision because of the FOIA,” Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly told POLITICO. “We’re not party to the litigat- ion on the FOIA.”
But nothing prevented Alverez from releasing the incriminating tape.
More than a dozen Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had been filed seeking release of the tape, but it took a lawsuit by Brandon Smith, a freelance journalist, to compel its disclosure under public records laws.
Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled that the police department could not use an ongoing investigation as a reason to lawfully withhold the video because other law enforcement agencies, not the department itself, were conducting the investigation.
The dramatic footage shows McDonald walking away from Van Dyke when the policeman opened fire, striking the teen at least 16 times, including after his motionless body was already sprawled on the ground.
Just before release of the videotape, Alvarez hurriedly did what she could have done all along – she charged Van Dyke independent of the grand jury with first-degree murder.
A separate Cook County grand jury has been convened and is expected to formally charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder, which carries a punishment of 20 years to life.
Meanwhile, the mayor forced and accepted the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, citing a loss of public confidence. The mayor has appointed a new police accountability task force to examine the McDonald case and other department issues.
One of those issues involves surveillance footage from a nearby Burger King. The manager told Chicago NBC/5 that officers entered the fast food eatery the night of the shooting and when they left, 86 minutes of video appeared to be missing.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to review Chicago’s police department’s practices, a move Emanuel has labeled as misguided.
The mayor said in a statement, “First and foremost, we need answers as to what happened in the Laquan McDonald case, which is why the United States attorney should swiftly conclude his year-long investigation and shed light on what happened that night, and the actions of everyone involved.”
We already know what happened that fatal night. And we also know that Rahm Emanuel fought every step of the way to keep the video of what happened that night out of public view. Now that he has forced his top cop to resign, citizens should force Emanuel to leave office as well.
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, george-
curry.com. You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns