DOWNTOWN — When Chicago's City Council was asked to approve a $5 million settlement to Laquan McDonald's family based on the now-infamous dashcam video, should they have OK'd the payout without seeing the tape?
That's what aldermen are asking themselves now that the city has erupted in protests over the police shooting of the teenager.
The City Council's finance committee was told the video was a key reason the city was pushing for the payout, but never watched the tape.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) was one of the few voices calling for the tape's immediate release after learning of its existence: "There’s no plan to look at the video and I think that situation is outrageous."
But when the measure was sent from the finance committe to the full council, the entire aldermanic membership voted to OK the settlement — again without viewing the video.
Seventeen aldermen, including Brookins, were present at the committee meeting April 13 when Stephen Patton, the head of the city's Law Department, explained why the settlement "makes sense for the City and taxpayers," according to a transcript obtained by Politico.
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During a lengthy and detailed description of the events of Oct. 20, 2014, when McDonald was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke, Patton told committee members:
"One of those squad cars, the one with the video cam, followed behind McDonald on Pulaski or was positioned behind him. The other squad car, which contained the shooter, pulled up beside him and then pulled again in front of him....
"... the shooting officer exited the vehicle gun drawn and then shot Mr. McDonald 16 times, all of it captured on videotape."
While Van Dyke claimed he feared for his life, "the plaintiffs [McDonald's family] contend very vehemently that Mr. McDonald had been walking away from the police and was continuing to walk away from the police, and they contend that the videotape supports their version of the events," Patton told the committee.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) were the only committee members who quizzed Patton during a Q&A following the lawyer's presentation. Laurino alone inquired about the video.
"This was one piece of the puzzle that brought us to this conclusion, correct?" the alderman asked of the video's role in the city's willingness to settle.
"It is," Patton responded. "It was an important piece of the evidence here, not the only evidence that we considered ... but it's one piece."
"OK. Fine. Thank you," Laurino concluded.
Two days later, on April 15, the committee submitted an ordinance to the full council authorizing the $5 million, along with a pair of other settlements — $250,000 to Nanci Koschman, mother of David Koschman; and $325,000 to Joseph and Debbie Bruce.
The three settlements were lumped together as "Item 5" (see transcript, 2:10 mark) on the council's agenda. Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the finance committee, introduced "three settlements of cases requested by the law department" with no description beyond the case numbers and names of the plaintiffs attached to the settlements.
The motion passed with no objections (see video).
So should there be repercussions for council members?
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was vocal in calling for the removal of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and has said State's Attorney Anita Alvarez should resign, was asked during an interview with WGN-TV Morning News: "What about the aldermen who signed off on this deal to give the family $5 million? Do you think people on city council should resign?"
"Of course not," Preckwinkle said. "They're not responsible for the direct administration of justice in the way that the superintendent of police and the state's attorney are."
Yet council members have acknowledged that more diligence was due on their part.
Speaking at a recent community forum, Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), a member of the finance committee who wasn't present at the April meeting, said, "I think that we should have done more to make sure that video came out sooner."
He added, "I think when these situations come up regarding police settlements, I think what you’re gonna find moving forward is a lot more investigation on the city council’s part before settlements come out.”
See the full transcript from the City Council meeting where the Laquan McDonald video was discussed:
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