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The Laquan McDonald Case: A Shooting, A Video and A City Fearing Turmoil

By Kelly Bauer | November 24, 2015 5:27am

CHICAGO — The city is bracing for the release of a video that shows the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

McDonald was killed when an officer, now identified as Jason Van Dyke, opened fire on him in Archer Heights. Police said they shot McDonald in self defense when he approached officers while holding a knife, but others have said a police dashboard-camera video shows McDonald walking away from police when he was killed.

RELATED: Read The Charges Against Jason Van Dyke, Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald

A judge ruled that the video must be made public, and some who have seen it have warned that it could go viral and lead to protests in Chicago like those seen in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore after police-involved deaths.

Here's what happened the night McDonald was killed and what's next in the case:


An image showing where 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot. Police said McDonald was shot in self defense, but attorneys for McDonald's family say a video shows McDonald was walking away from police when he was shot 16 times.

The Night in Question

What led up to the shooting of McDonald has been disputed.

At 9:45 p.m. Oct. 20, 2014, police said they received a report of someone breaking into cars in the 4100 block of South Karlov Avenue. When they arrived, a teen — later identified as McDonald — punctured a police car's tire with a knife and damaged the car's window, police said. McDonald — who the Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell reported was a ward of the state who had been removed from his mother's care twice early in his life — ran from police, they said.

Police confronted McDonald in the 4100 block of South Pulaski Avenue, but he refused to drop the knife, police said. He walked up to officers while holding the knife and Van Dyke shot McDonald in self defense, police said.

The officer was "in fear of his life," city Corporation Counsel Steve Patton later said. John Kass of the Tribune later reported that the drug PCP was found in McDonald's system.

McDonald was shot 16 times.

Lawyers for McDonald's family, who have seen a video of the shooting, have disputed the story from police. Attorney Michael Robbins said last week a police dashboard-camera video shows McDonald was walking away from police when an officer fatally shot him.

"The video shows he never approached a police officer," said Robbins, who called the shooting "unlawful." "He never menaced a police officer."

The city ultimately paid McDonald's family a $5 million settlement — even though the family had not filed a lawsuit. Patton told the City Council it was in the "best interests of the city" to do so for a variety of reasons.

The Video

Though a police dashboard-camera recorded the fatal shooting of McDonald, only a few people have seen it. Until recently, the city had fought attempts to have it released.

The video is "graphic" and "violent" and depicts an officer shooting McDonald while the 17-year-old walks away from police, said Robbins, the McDonald family's attorney. Patton had urged the City Council to give the family a $5 million settlement by saying the family's attorneys would argue in court that the video showed McDonald walking away from police.

The family has said they did not want the video released.

And as recently as Nov. 13, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said the city would release the video only "as soon as it's not part of an investigation."

But on Thursday a judge ruled the city had until Wednesday to release the video. Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin Valderrama issued the order in a case stemming from muckrakery! web journalist Brandon Smith's Freedom of Information Act request to release the video.

What Happens Now?

Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed reported the video will be released at 3 p.m. Wednesday, but the city has not yet confirmed how or when it will release the video.

People who have watched the video have said it could go viral and lead to protests. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the video was "chilling" and would "tear at the hearts of Chicago." City officials and activists, fearing potential violence, have called for peace and restraint ahead of the release. Emanuel has met with community and religious leaders and black aldermen to talk about the video's release.

“Everybody I’ve talked to [since yesterday has said], ‘We should not have any violence,’” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina's, a prominent anti-violence activist on the South Side. “If we respond with violence, than we are no better than the perpetrators we’re angry with. There should be no violence.”

Instead, activists have said there should be peaceful acts of civil disobedience and protests. Pfleger called for people to block Michigan Avenue on Black Friday to protest McDonald's death.

And he's not the only one.

"A lot of people are going to go crazy," said Ja'Mal Green, founder of the Auburn Gresham youth group Skyrocketing Teens Corp. He said release of the video had the potential to be "a modern-day Emmett Till," the Chicago youth whose murder in the '50s galvanized the nascent civil-rights movement.

Rev. Ira Acree, of the Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller Ave., said "protests are imminent."

And though Emanuel asks religious leaders to keep things calm. Pastor Corey Brooks says there's only so much they can do.

"I'm definitely concerned about people's outrage," said Brooks of the New Beginnings Church of Chicago. "We're asking people to be peaceful," he added, but said religious leaders would not be to blame if protests got out of hand.

"We're in a situation that has the potential to be a bombshell," Brooks said.

Van Dyke was charged with first degree murder Tuesday. Van Dyke's attorney could not be reached for comment.

On Monday, the mayor said Van Dyke would be held "accountable."

"He was stripped of his police authority," Emanuel said. "This officer didn't uphold the law — in my view, took the law into his own hand. Didn't build the trust that we want to see and wasn't about protecting safety and security. So, at every point he violated" the public trust.

Therefore, Emanuel added, "You're gonna be, in my view, held accountable for that action."

And 24 hours before having to release the McDonald video, the city addressed another high-profile police shooting: Supt. Garry McCarthy moved to fire the officer who shot and killed Rekia Boyd in 2012.

Dante Servin was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct in Boyd's slaying. Experts later said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez brought the wrong charges against Servin. Alvarez has been criticized before for being soft on prosecuting police officers.

Federal and local authorities and the Independent Police Review Authority are still investigating the McDonald incident.

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