CHICAGO — City officials have released hundreds of pages of documents relating to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald and the police investigation that followed. The files raise another series of questions about the handling of the case, which has prompted thousands of protesters to demonstrate all over the city and has caused Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to resign.
According to the case files, at least five police officers who said they witnessed Officer Jason Van Dyke shoot 17-year-old McDonald on October 20, 2014, said they saw McDonald either waving his knife aggressively, approaching the officers, or both. Van Dyke has since been charged with first-degree murder.
Dashcam videos released by the city after months of legal wrangling appears to contradict those statements.
[Warning: Video below is graphic.]
Furthermore, the primary detective assigned to review the case, David March, wrote that he watched two dashcam videos and determined they were "consistent with the accounts of all the witnesses."
The video shows McDonald walking alongside where two police cars had stopped, including the car that held Van Dyke and his partner Joseph Walsh. McDonald had his left hand in his pocket and swung his right arm, which held the knife, as he walked. The officers are to his left side and he does not appear to wave the knife at them. The video shows him walking away from the officers before Van Dyke opens fire.
(Scroll down to read all the documents.)
In handwritten notes by Sgt. Daniel Gallagher, one of the detectives assigned to the case, Van Dyke (who was in the passenger seat that night) said he had opened the squad car door to "confront" McDonald, but Walsh told him not to because they were too close to McDonald.
The car then pulled further up, ahead of McDonald, and Van Dyke exited.
Van Dyke said McDonald had the knife in an "underhand grip, blade forward." He was "swinging knife in aggressive, exaggerated manner," Van Dyke told detectives.
In typed notes from March's report, Van Dyke told the detective that "McDonald raised the knife across his chest and over his shoulder, pointing the knife at Van Dyke."
He also said that he "backpedaled and fired his handgun at McDonald," though the video shows him advancing on McDonald.
Three officers (Walsh, Daphne Sebastian and Janet Mondragon) corroborated Van Dyke's claim that McDonald was waving the knife and approaching the officers.
Officer Dora Fontaine said she saw McDonald "raised his right arm toward Officer Van Dyke, as if attacking Van Dyke."
Officer Ricardo Viramontes said he saw McDonald "turned toward Van Dyke and his partner."
While five police cars were present at the scene, only two produced usable dashcam footage. One camera was on but had a "disc error," one was not on because of "power issues" and another was not turned on because it had an "application error," according to one document. The widely released video (shown above) is from the car of Officers Sebastian and Mondragon. Police also released video from Van Dyke/Walsh's car and another car that arrived after the shooting to the Tribune last week.
The files include police reports, witness testimonies, evidence inventories and dozens of pages documenting the 16 bullet wounds that McDonald sustained that night.
In response to the documents, the Chicago Police Department released this statement:
By City law, the Independent Police Review Authority conducts all investigations of the conduct Chicago police officers when they are involved in an officer-involved shooting. That is not handled internally at CPD. IPRA’s administrative investigations to determine whether officers should be disciplined are always suspended pending criminal investigations so as not to interfere with those proceedings. CPD’s case report and all videos were turned over to IPRA and state and federal prosecutors days after the shooting. The Justice Department is currently investigating any actions and statements of CPD officers in connection with this shooting. If the criminal investigation concludes that any officer participated in any wrongdoing, we will take swift action.
Federal officials with the Justice Department have been called in to investigate the shooting itself and the subsequent investigation, according to a law enforcement source.
Once the federal and state investigations are complete, then IPRA can resume its own process.
According to the Tribune, federal prosecutors are investigating the officers who made statements as well as the officers who prepared the reports of the statements.
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