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City releases files from watchdog's probe of fatal Chicago police shooting of Laquan McDonald

Jeremy Gorner and John Byrne, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- After city officials for years kept a Chicago government watchdog's investigation into the Laquan McDonald police shooting under wraps, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration released a trove of records to the public on Wednesday, a key move in her campaign promise to try to build trust in the way high-profile police misconduct allegations are handled.

This marks the first time the city's Law Department has publicly released reports from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson's investigation of police Officer Jason Van Dyke's 2014 fatal shooting of McDonald.

Lightfoot got the City Council to pass a measure last month to give her corporation counsel the authority to decide whether to release the inspector general's investigations in cases that involve a death or that "is or may be a felony ... and is of a compelling public interest."

McDonald's death, captured on police dashboard camera video, was a pivotal moment for the city. "16 shots and a cover-up" -- a reference to the number of times Van Dyke shot McDonald as the teen walked with a knife on a Southwest Side street -- became a rallying cry for critics who said officers weren't held accountable for misdeeds. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder last fall and sentenced to 63/4 years in prison.

Ferguson conducted a broader investigation into whether other officers and Police Department brass covered for Van Dyke in the shooting's aftermath.

While she was running for mayor, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handling of the McDonald shooting and its fallout casting a long shadow over the race, Lightfoot promised to bring greater ethics and transparency to city government. When she introduced the measure to allow the release of the inspector general reports in July, she framed it as another way in which she's delivering on that pledge. She reiterated that in a statement Wednesday.


"Our residents have a right to understand the decisions being made by their government," the statement read in part. " ... The release of these documents today represents the first of many steps we are taking to ensure our City operates with nothing short of the highest levels of transparency."

Nearly three years ago, The Chicago Tribune exclusively obtained thousands of pages of confidential reports from the inspector general's investigation, much of which has now been released publicly Wednesday. The Tribune has periodically run stories with details from those reports. Among the highlights:

--Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, while a deputy chief of patrol, was among top brass that viewed now-infamous video of McDonald's shooting about 10 days after the incident and didn't raise any objection to Van Dyke's actions, according to an interview by Ferguson's investigators with a police lieutenant who was in attendance. The story also highlighted what Van Dyke told authorities happened, in which he alleged McDonald was coming after him: "I think he's going to try and take my life away from me," he said.

--Ferguson's office recommended that 11 officers -- including the two highest-ranking on the scene, Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy and Deputy Chief David McNaughton -- be fired for their alleged roles in covering up the circumstances of the shooting. This story gave an overview of the allegations against each.


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