CHICAGO — A study of the police union's statements given immediately after police-involved shootings shows that the union has provided a false narrative in nearly half of its statements since 2012, according to reports.
A joint Chicago Reader and City Bureau investigation found that 15 of the 35 statements given by Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 spokesman Pat Camden after shootings since 2012 have contained facts that were later proven false or misleading through legal testimony, video, media investigations or official police statements.
Camden has generally been one of the first to comment after a Chicago Police officer shoots a civilian. While the police department's media arm generally waits hours or days before releasing statements on such events, Camden's narrative has already become the prevailing story of the shooting in media reports, according to the Reader and City Bureau.
The false narratives not only do damage to the shooting victims and their families, they also hurt the Police Department's standing in the community, the report alleges.
This practice of the police union controlling the message after a fatal police shooting is not the norm in most big U.S. cities, according to the Reader.
"I cannot remember on any occasion when the Los Angeles police union made any kind of statement [about a police shooting]," Stephen Downing, former LAPD deputy chief, told the Reader. '[Camden's] standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it's the union. The police department and city should be objecting to that. If they're not, then they're complicit."
Camden told the Reader that it is his practice to preface his statements by saying his information is secondhand and has not yet been verified. In the Washington Post last year, Camden said of his official police union comments, "hearsay is basically what I'm putting out at that point."
The prevailing narrative in many of Chicago's police-involved shootings is that officers' use of lethal force was necessary because they were in fear of their lives.
Later, through either dashcam footage and courtroom testimony, that narrative has been proven false many times. Here are some of the cases where the Reader reported that Camden's statements misled the public:
• Laquan McDonald: In the now-infamous fatal shooting of McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke, Camden originally told reporters that the teen "lunged" at Van Dyke with a knife in a "clear-cut case of self-defense." Dashcam footage has shown that the teen was walking away from officers, and the disparity in stories has led to widespread protests, the ouster of former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel's resignation.
• Rekia Boyd: Boyd was standing with a group near Douglas Park in 2012 when off-duty officer Dante Servin opened fire on them, killing Boyd and injuring Antonio Cross. In this case, Camden said Cross approached Servin's car and pointed a gun in his direction. The public later learned that Cross was actually holding a cellphone.
• Jamaal Moore: The 23-year-old Moore was fatally shot by an officer in 2012. Camden initially said that Moore was a robbery suspect and that he had attacked officers as they attempted to arrest him. Moore was in fact not armed, and had just been run over by a police car before he was shot twice, surveillance footage later showed.
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