CHICAGO — Newly released emails and documents Thursday show that lawyers representing the family of Laquan McDonald had accused police of intimidating a witness who contradicted the police account that the shooting was justified, holding her against her will and threatening her safety.
Since the graphic video of 17-year-old McDonald's death at the hands of police was released to the public just before Thanksgiving, protests have sprouted up demanding the resignations of key officials involved in what activists call a "cover up" of the circumstances of his shooting. Now it is clear that the cover-up allegations also were part of the $5 million settlement that the city paid to the family prior to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's reelection.
In an eight-page memo sent from lawyer Jeffrey Neslund (representing McDonald's family) to city lawyers in March 2015, Neslund lays out a multi-point justification for the original $16 million sum he demanded for what he characterized as "a gratuitous execution and as well as a hate crime."
Neslund said that six witnesses saw the shooting. Three were taken to a police station and questioned. Another witness, a woman who Neslund said was "appalled" at the shooting and had screamed for Officer Jason Van Dyke to "stop shooting," was taken to a station and held for six hours against her will, Neslund said.
Detectives asked her to change her story, claiming the video would back it up, he said. Detectives did not show the woman the video, according to Neslund.
"There's a reason they kept us there til 4:00 a.m. one officer said he was going to get me — that's why I haven't talk [sic] to anybody; that's why I've kept things to myself," the woman stated, according to the lawyers. Her name was redacted from the released documents.
She was later quoted by multiple news articles describing what she'd seen, and had been "threatened and harassed on multiple occasions," according to Neslund.
Neslund also cited another witness who had given a statement to IPRA who said McDonald did not pose a threat to anyone, and was "shying away" from police before he was shot.
Neither witness accounts appeared in the full police report of the shooting released to the public, which only contain accounts of police officers who said they saw McDonald lunging and/or menacing officers with a knife before he was shot — accounts that are contradicted by the now-infamous dashcam video.
Neslund said the family wished for a settlement, and laid out a few reasons why the city might want one, too, including the video: "I submit the graphic dash cam video will have a powerful impact on any jury and the Chicago community as a whole," he wrote.
The lawyers also slammed the Fraternal Order of Police for providing "false and misleading information," claiming that McDonald had lunged at the officers and forced Van Dyke to shoot, which lawyers said were "outright falsehoods."
"This conduct, together with the attempt to coerce occurrence witnesses, and allowing the F.O.P. to disseminate false and misleading information" was even stronger proof of a police code of silence and culture of cover-up cited in the case of Roshad McIntosh, who was shot and killed by police in August 2014, about two months before McDonald. The McIntosh family filed suit in 2015 alleging various civil rights violations.
Read all the documents released by the city Thursday relating the McDonald case here. (ht WTTW Chicago Tonight)
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