Chicago Police Accused of Deleting Video and Threatening Witnesses
After a Chicago police officer shot a 17-year-old boy 16 times, police destroyed 86 minutes of video from a nearby Burger King surveillance camera, the restaurant’s manager said.
And they have yet to release dashcam footage of the shooting, even though it was damaging enough to prompt the city to pay a $5 million settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald even before they filed a lawsuit.
On October 20, 2014, McDonald was followed through the parking lot of the Burger King shortly before he was killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, the only one of the six police officers present that night who opened fire. The video from the restaurant would not have depicted the actual shooting, but would have shown the moments leading up to it.
Jay Darshane, the manager of the Burger King, told NBC Chicago and MSNBC that he thinks police detectives deleted the video after he told his employees to give them the password and allow them to access it. He said that the cameras were turned on and working properly during the night of the shooting.
“We had no idea they were going to sit there and delete files,” he said. “I mean we were just trying to help the police officers.”
The Independent Police Review Authority, which is responsible for investigating police shootings and misconduct allegations, acknowledged that the footage is missing, but did its best to defend police: “We have no credible evidence at this time that would cause us to believe CPD purged or erased any surveillance video.”
According to Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden, the police confronted McDonald in response to a 911 call about someone breaking into cars. The police boxed McDonald in with their vehicles, but he slashed one of their tires with a knife, then approached the police while refusing to comply with orders to drop the weapon before Van Dyke shot him.
However, that story was reportedly contradicted by the dashboard camera video which managed to survive despite being in the hands of the police.
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, an attorney for the city, told reporters that Van Dyke was in fear for his life, but also said that the video was crucial to the city’s decision to approve a settlement.
The city has refused requests from news media organizations to release the video, citing ongoing investigations by the Cook County state’s attorney and FBI.
The attorneys representing McDonald’s family have obtained a copy of the video from the city, but cannot release it under the terms of their settlement. They say it shows McDonald walking away from police when Van Dyke shot him.
Jeffrey Neslund, one of the family’s attorneys, described the video to MSNBC:
When Laquan is about 12 to 15 feet away from the officers, the width of an entire lane of the southbound traffic, one officer begins shooting. Laquan immediately spins to the ground and the video then clearly shows that the officer continues to shoot Laquan multiple times as he lays in the street. Sixteen seconds pass from the time Laquan hits the ground until the last visible puff of smoke rises from his torso area. An officer then approaches Laquan, stands over him, and appears to shout something as he kicks the knife out of his hand.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Neslund referred to the shooting as an “execution.”
Michael Robbins, another attorney representing the family, told MSNBC that witnesses said they were threatened by police officers after the shooting instead of interviewed about what they saw:
[T]he police conduct in connection with the witnesses is very troubling. There are occurrence witnesses, two of them we have spoken with, who witnessed the actual shooting itself because they became stopped in traffic at the moment when the shooting occurred, and they were within feet of the shooting and observed it from their stopped car. And immediately after, the shooting the police went up to these witnesses — these individuals who were witnesses — and told them to leave or be arrested.
Prior to the McDonald shooting, Van Dyke had already accumulated 15 complaints, including allegations of police brutality and using racial epithets, but the city never resolved any of the complaints.
Ed Nance, one of the complainants, was awarded $350,000 by a jury after he was injured by Van Dyke in a 2007 police brutality case. Nance broke into tears after he was told about the McDonald shooting, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“It just makes me so sad because it shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “He shouldn’t have been on the street in the first place after my incident.”
Van Dyke has been on paid desk duty since the shooting.