Prosecutor's Office Says Chicago Mayor Hid Laquan McDonald Video by Choice, Not Necessity
Fallout from the Nov. 24 release of video showing a white Chicago police officer killing a black teenager escalated Tuesday when the Cook County prosecutor's office contradicted Mayor Rahm Emanuel's version of how the release played out.
In a striking claim, a representative for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez told Politico their office never pushed legal action to block the footage being made public — suggesting it could have been released way earlier than it was.
This revelation complicates the narrative established by the city. On Oct. 24, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times and killed him. The incident was captured on a patrol car dash camera, and in April, the city of Chicago paid McDonald's family $5 million to block a lawsuit that might have made the video public.
But efforts to keep things under wraps fell apart in November, when a Cook County judge ordered the footage be released. The decision was condemned by city administrators, who said they planned to fight it in court.
Then suddenly, Emanuel changed course. Saying Van Dyke had "violated [the public's] trust," Emanuel condemned the shooting and said the video would be released as ordered on Nov. 24.
So what took him so long? Emanuel's office had long claimed the video was kept private because of an ongoing investigation — a decision the prosecutor's office has since confirmed was voluntary, and not definitively necessary. Now, critics are suggesting Emanuel kept the video hidden to preserve his chances of winning the mayoral election in February, which he eventually snagged in a close run-off in April.
Add this development to an already troubled year in Chicago politics. In April, the city established a $5.5 million fund to compensate victims of the Jon Burge torture scandal — a small chunk of the $500 million the city has spent fighting police misconduct cases over the last decade. That same month, a judge acquitted Dante Servin, an off-duty Chicago police officer who fired his gun into a crowd in 2012 and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, because the charge he faced — involuntary manslaughter — was not serious enough for the crime.
Accusations of an administrative cover-up have also grown louder in the past week. Emanuel met calls to fire former Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy by establishing a police accountability task force, and removing McCarthy from his post Tuesday.
But none of this has tamped down the protests in Chicago after the video's release. And none of it has drawn heat away from Alvarez, whose controversy-plagued office faces renewed criticism because they took a staggering 13 months to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder.
"[What] we've witnessed in this and other instances is a fundamental breakdown in the ability of [Chicago] police to protect the public, and the public's faith in CPD," Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy at the ACLU of Illinois, told Mic in a previous interview.
Van Dyke was released from jail Monday after posting a $150,000 bond. On Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Chicago Police Department.