Prosecutors Release Video Of Chicago Police Fatally Shooting Black Man

8 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

As Fallout From Laquan McDonald’s Killing Continues, No Charges for Chicago Police Officer in Separate Shooting.

A dashcam video of another 2014 fatal shooting of a black man by a Chicago police officer became public Monday, with Cook County’s top prosecutor explaining in unusual detail her reasons for not charging the officer. CHICAGO — Responding to deepening mistrust of one of the nation’s largest police forces, the federal government opened an investigation Monday into the Chicago Police Department, and authorities announced they would not charge an officer in the death of a 25-year-old black man who was shot in the back last year.Week three of Chicago’s policing crisis begins with an extraordinary pileup of news, as the release of a harrowing video showing the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald at the hands of police officer Jason Van Dyke continues to reverberate. Federal investigators will look into the possibility of widespread civil rights violations in the department, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday.

As WSJ reports, Justice Department officials said their review will look at police accountability and whether use of force differs by race and ethic background. The probe follows similar federal civil rights investigations that were launched in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, in the wake of unrest in both cities. The inquiry would not target officers, but rather look at systemic issues inside the police department. “Our goal in this investigation, as in all of our pattern-or-practice investigations, is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems,” Ms.

DOJ’s inquiry is known as a “pattern-and-practice” investigation, a civil probe that focuses on the conduct and culture of an entire police department, rather than on specific members of a force. This investigation into the country’s second-largest local police department comes less than two weeks after the Chicago force came under the national spotlight because of recently released video footage showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager. Pattern-and-practice investigations tend to look at a department’s use-of-force record and stop-and-search data or other evidence that could point to biased policing, experts say. The Washington Post first reported Sunday that the Justice Department would open this investigation, putting Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s force under the microscope of his former colleagues in the Obama administration. On Monday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that she would not be bringing charges against another Chicago policeman involved in a fatal shooting in 2014.

The video shows that police officer George Hernandez was chasing Johnson after responding to 911 calls about a nearby shooting; Johnson had been one of three passengers in a car that was targeted by gunfire a few minutes earlier. Some have ended in court-supervised agreements with police agencies known as consent decrees, which often followed findings of generalized misconduct.

Attorneys from the Justice Department’s civil rights division will meet with officers, law enforcement command, city officials and other community members, Lynch said. Facing mounting pressure over the matter, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last week that he would make the new video public, reversing the city’s earlier position, in which it fought the release in court filings. If the investigation finds any unconstitutional behavior, federal officials would work with the city to enact reforms, something the attorney general noted would come with a court-enforced agreement. “We understand that the same systems that fail community members also fail conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect,” Lynch said.

But a lawyer for the Johnson family has disputed that account, saying he believes the gun was planted by officers and that video captured on a police cruiser’s dashboard camera would confirm that Johnson was not armed when Hernandez shot him. Speaking at a news conference, Emanuel said the police department’s challenges go beyond one case and he’s making several reforms, including appointing a new leader for the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates shootings by police.

The agreements come with federal monitors, often picked by a court, who often spend years tracking and reporting on whether the department is making good on promised changes. You can watch a slow motion version of the video below, via WGN 9 news: But the video shown at Monday’s press conference is too blurry to confirm much of anything. The police have said he ran when they approached him, and then pointed a gun in the direction of the officers who were pursuing him before they shot him. She played 911 calls and radio traffic among officers as a way of explaining what Hernandez knew about the scene when he arrived: Shots had been fired and men with guns could be seen running into a building. Nevertheless Alvarez told reporters Monday that an enhanced photo still taken from the video is in fact clear enough to show Johnson was holding a gun. “I’m looking at this, and it appears to be an object in there,” Alvarez said, pointing to a still that was prepared for her office by the Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory.

Alvarez said Hernandez would have been able to see a man struggle with a plainclothes officer before breaking away and fleeing on foot and could hear officers shouting for the man — Johnson — to stop and drop his weapon. In the video clip, captured by a dashboard camera, Van Dyke is seen firing a volley of shots at McDonald, many of them after the teenager had fallen to the ground. She also said her investigation had found that, though Johnson was running from Hernandez when he was killed, he was simultaneously running toward other officers, and could have turned around at any moment to fire his gun. And though the initial accounts from authorities suggested that McDonald was approaching officers, the video showed him appearing to veer away before he was shot.

In light of that, Alvarez said, it was reasonable for Hernandez to believe that Johnson represented a threat of death or serious bodily harm to him and his fellow officers, making him legally justified in his decision to use deadly force. As with the McDonald case, the city of Chicago had been fighting in court to keep the video footage of Johnson’s death from being released for more than a year, on the grounds that it would inflame the public and create bias against the police officer. In 2012, the Department of Justice also investigated the Cleveland Police Department, a venture that took 18 months and led to extensive reforms on how police can use force and the installation of an independent observer. “When community members feel that they are not receiving that kind of policing, when they feel ignored, let down or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences for the wellbeing of their communities, there are profound consequences for the rule of law and for the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity,” Lynch said. That about-face was followed almost immediately by an announcement from Alvarez—who has been criticized for taking 13 months to bring charges in the McDonald case—that Hernandez was being investigated for possible criminal charges.

As part of that discovery for that suit, lawyers for Johnson’s family were provided a copy of the dashboard video but under a protective order that bars them from disseminating it. Before showing the dashcam video in the Johnson case, she and Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy showed a long PowerPoint presentation that included radio communications and maps of the part of the city where the shooting happened.

Ensuring fair investigations and ultimate justice, in Chicago and elsewhere, requires more, including public scrutiny and independent prosecutors who don’t owe their careers to police unions. There were photographs of the gun she said was recovered near Johnson’s body in a grassy area of a park, and digitally magnified images of Johnson’s hand while he was running to show he was holding an object. She also, unusually, showed a video of an unrelated shooting incident to illustrate her point that an officer could be in fear for his life from a man running away; it showed an assailant shooting an officer over his shoulder.

The attorney representing Johnson’s family countered Alvarez’s video presentation with one of his own later Monday — including parts of video and audio of a deposition that he took from Hernandez a month ago. Attorney Michael Oppenheimer, who represents Johnson’s mother, Dorothy Holmes, dismissed Alvarez’s presentation as an “infomercial,” said a witness was coerced into false testimony and said the investigation Alvarez relied on was incomplete and didn’t include comments from key witnesses — including Hernandez himself. The audio Oppenheimer presented of what he said was Hernandez’s deposition had the officer saying that he wasn’t concerned about charges being filed against him. In her letter, Madigan described trust in the police as “broken, especially in communities of color,” and cited several cases of officers in Chicago shooting people in the city. But a spokeswoman also said that the state’s attorney did not oppose the video’s release. “The top priority is preserving and maintaining the integrity of any investigation into police misconduct, regardless of which agency is conducting the inquiry,” a statement from Chicago’s Law Department said last week. “With the recent court ruling that FOIA law does not protect evidence held by one agency while another is investigating, the City is working to find the right balance between the public’s right to know and not compromising ongoing investigations.

On Monday, Emanuel pledged “complete cooperation” with the federal investigation. “This is not the end of the problem but the beginning of a solution,” he said. Some departments have struggled to sustain reforms once oversight ended, and in some cities, police relations with residents remain strained. “The goal isn’t that we have a perfect police department when we leave,” the head of DOJ’s civil-rights division, Vanita Gupta, told reporters who conducted the survey above. “The goal is that they actually know what to do when there’s a problem.”

The city’s early efforts to suppress the footage coincided with Emanuel’s re-election campaign, when the mayor was seeking African-American votes in a tight race. High-profile incidents across the country have sparked protests and unrest, and police officers have described feeling increasingly tense and say they feel demonized. If videos are to make a difference, confidentiality will need to be balanced against the public’s interest in knowing how its police force treats citizens.

Federal investigators have probed a host of departments in recent years, looking at forces in Cleveland; Seattle; New Orleans; Portland, Ore.; and Albuquerque. The report on the police force in Ferguson, released earlier this year, said officers there routinely violated the constitutional rights of black citizens.

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