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Laquan McDonald Video Sparks Federal Probe Into Chicago Police Use of Force

By Alex Nitkin | December 7, 2015 9:17am | Updated on December 7, 2015 12:24pm
 US Attorney General Loretta Lynch
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch
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CHICAGO — U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Monday announced a federal investigation into the Chicago Police Department in the wake of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington D.C., Lynch said the feds will look into the department's use of force as it applies to race and ethnicity in possible violation of civil rights. It will also look into "accountability mechanisms" like disciplinary policies for the officers behind those violations, she said.

McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Van Dyke was charged with murder after a judge ordered city officials to release a dashcam video showing the shooting.

 U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon speaks at a news conference announcing Barbara Byrd-Bennett's indictment and guilty plea Thursday.
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon speaks at a news conference announcing Barbara Byrd-Bennett's indictment and guilty plea Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

Faced with multiple questions about Van Dyke, Lynch said the probe will "not focus on individuals" but will seek to "improve the system." A separate, specific investigation into McDonald's shooting is already underway, she said.

Asked specifically if the probe will be expanded to examine City Hall or the Cook County State's Attorney's office, Lynch said the investigation will focus on misconduct "within the police department," but officials will reach out to "a broad cross-section of community members, city officials and law enforcement" to reach its conclusions.

Since the video of McDonald's death was released on Nov. 24, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has faced intense scrutiny for the amount of time it took her office to bring charges against Van Dyke.

The investigation's goal, if problems are found, will be to correct the system and "seek a court-enforceable agreement" with the city to protect people's civil rights and well being, she said.

But Lynch swatted away repeated questions of how soon those results could surface, saying she couldn't predict how long the investigation would last.

"We may start with one perspective, and it could very easily expand into a longer time frame," Lynch said. She noted that months-old investigations into the deaths of Freddie Gray and Eric Garner, who respectively died at the hands of police in Baltimore and New York City, are still open.

Above all, Lynch said, the purpose of the investigation was to restore trust between Chicagoans and the people charged with keeping them safe.

Without that trust, it's "more difficult [for police] to gain help with investigations, to encourage victims and witnesses of crime to speak up, and to fulfill the most basic responsibilities of public officials," she said, in reference to the city's notorious "code of silence."

"When suppression and hostility is allowed to fester, it can erupt into civil unrest," she added.

Also participating in the press conference were Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary Fardon.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel immediately released a statement, vowing "the city's complete cooperation."

"I welcome today's announcement," Emanuel said. "Our mutual goal is to create a stronger, better police department that keeps the community safe while respecting the civil rights of every Chicagoan."

Emanuel last week said he did not think a special federal investigation was needed but later backtracked, saying he "trust[s] the Department of Justice to make the right decision based on the facts and the law."

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