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State

Chicago releases watchdog probe of Laquan McDonald shooting

Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke (left) attends his sentencing hearing Jan. 18 at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago for the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.
Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke (left) attends his sentencing hearing Jan. 18 at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago for the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald.

CHICAGO – Chicago’s law department on Wednesday released for the first time the city watchdog’s full investigative reports into the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer – a move the mayor has championed in her push for transparent government and to regain public trust.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has promised to “shine a light” on police misconduct and voiced concerns that withholding the Inspector General’s office reports “only generates mistrust.”

There is no incident in recent Chicago history that has created such distrust of City Hall and the police department than then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s unsuccessful legal battle to keep under wraps the dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shoot the teen 16 times.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson applauded the release of the documents, telling the Chicago Sun-Times this week that the only way the public will have confidence in government “is to put the information out there.”

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance last month overruling city laws that required the law department to keep the Inspector General’s office reports confidential. Under the new ordinance, the department is authorized to release such investigations in cases that involved a death or a possible felony and is “of a compelling public interest.”

The reports don’t appear to reveal much new information on the investigations into Van Dyke and 15 other officers who Ferguson recommended be fired or disciplined. Many details were revealed during the trial that ended with Van Dyke’s conviction of second-degree murder and another trial that ended with the acquittal of three officers charged with trying to cover up the shooting.

Details revealed at trial included findings that the video proved Van Dyke and his partner, officer Joseph Walsh, lied when they said McDonald moved toward the officers, raised a knife at them, tried to kill them and tried to get up off the ground after he was shot.

The police department had already released scores of documents.

Furthermore, the Chicago Tribune wrote stories after obtaining thousands of pages of the Inspector General’s office reports when they were still confidential, highlighting how high-ranking members of the department determined the shooting was justified after watching the video.

One apparently new element in the documents released Wednesday was that one of the police officers destroyed evidence, including handwritten notes from interviews detectives had conducted with civilian witnesses.áThe report concluded that the Inspector General’s office would have recommended his firing, had he not retired in 2016.

The Fraternal Order of Police vehemently opposed the release of the reports, saying in a statement last month that it unfairly tarnishes the reputations of police officers and would result in more officers being “tried in the media and not in the courtroom.”

The union said inspector general’s investigations are often a “political witch hunt of our members.” It did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the release of the documents.

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