With the city of Chicago still reeling from the grisly footage of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's death at the hands of police, a video showing a Chicago cop fatally shooting another 17-year-old, Cedrick Chatman, has been released on a judge's order.
In recent months, with a Department of Justice investigation underway and the national media breathing down his neck, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the city's police superintendent and created a police accountability task force, while the top official for the city's preexisting—and troubled—Independent Police Review Authority also resigned. But even as the mayor has acknowledged the need for sweeping change in how Chicago cops do their jobs, lawyers for the city have apparently been busy keeping video of Chatman's 2013 death hidden from the public.
"The city has been fighting us tooth and nail on getting the video out," said Mark Smolens, one of the lawyers for the Chatman family. "You have the incongruity of the city lawyers a few blocks away arguing against the release of the video, and the mayor saying this is a new era of transparency for police."
Unlike McDonald, Chatman was completely unarmed when police shot him four times in the middle of the day on January 7, 2013. The police narrative claims that the teen was carrying an unknown dark object that police interpreted as threatening, though the item was later revealed to be an iPhone 5 case, after it was recovered from Chatman's body. Footage from several separate surveillance cameras was released Thursday, offering imperfect views of the incident, including images of the officer firing off camera and Chatman collapsing to the ground.
Like McDonald, Chatman was moving away from the cop when he was shot down. According to police, Chatman ran after two officers, guns drawn, ordered him out of a Dodge Charger that had been reported stolen. Both cops—including the shooter, Officer Kevin Fry, who told the investigators that he shot the teenager out of fear for his own life and that of his partner—remain on the force and have not faced criminal charges.
The Independent Police Review Authority found the Chatman shooting to be justified, but only after former IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis initially concluded otherwise, and recommended that Fry be fired. Instead, it was Davis who, unwilling to alter his report, was fired, he told the New York Times. (Davis has since filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.)
Like Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald 16 times and has been indicted on first-degree murder charges, Fry has a troubling history of undisciplined misconduct complaints. His record cites 30 incidents in total, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, which was released in November by the Invisible Institute, where I work as a journalist. Fry's history includes multiple allegations of use of force, illegal search, and false arrest of citizens. Likewise, Van Dyke has 20 complaints in the same database, though the city has since provided reporters with additional records showing additional allegations against him.
On the eve of the judge's decision to release the Chatman video, the city's lawyers made an 11th-hour attempt to save face, filing a motion to withdraw their longstanding opposition from the protective order that guarded the video. "I went to a lot of trouble to decide this issue," Judge Robert W. Gettleman said in court Thursday, criticizing the city for wasting his time.
"They've had over two and a half years to be transparent with this case," Brian Coffman, a lawyer who also represents the Chatman family, told reporters outside of the hearing.
Lawyers for the city did not respond to multiple message requests for comment.
Release of the video evidence was initially held up by the criminal cases of two men who were allegedly with Chatman at the time of his death. The pair, Martel Odum and Akeem Clarke, faced murder charges, later dropped, for the teen's death. They pleaded guilty to robbery and unlawful vehicular invasion and were sentenced to ten years.
Chatman's mother does not wish to see the video, her lawyers say. But when Chicagoans discuss the events that led to her son's death, the video can now speak for itself.
"It makes you angry when [the police] are allowed to create this story about conduct by a young man who is literally running down a street," Smolens said. "Less than ten seconds from the time he got out and the time he is mortally wounded on a street in the City of Chicago."
Leaving a public event after the release of the video, Emanuel dodged questions from reporters who followed the mayor to an elevator.
"We're in the middle of transition to a different policy as it relates to transparency and letting that material out and the decision is exactly an example of that," Emanuel said, according to ABC News 7 Chicago.
Meanwhile, as activists plan protests in Chicago, Emanuel's own plans to host an annual Martin Luther King breakfast are being met with calls for African-American clergy members to boycott the event.
"Dr. King fought for civil rights, and I just feel that the mayor is not adequately leading the city in the African-American community in the right direction," said community activist William Calloway, who held a protest Monday at the intersection where Chatman was shot in the South Shore neighborhood. "Due to the current conditions in African-American community, under the current mayoral administration, I thought it would be disrespectful to the legacy of Dr. King."
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