Chicago judge rules police must release video of black teen's shooting death

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2015 4:12 PM

By Fiona Ortiz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge in Chicago ruled on Thursday that police must release a video of the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old black teenager in October 2014, after a journalist filed a public information lawsuit against the city.

Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer, including multiple times in the back. Police said he was lunging at them with a knife. A lawyer for his family has said the video from a patrol car dashboard camera showed McDonald with a knife in his hand but moving away from police.

The City of Chicago has refused to release the video, saying it could taint ongoing investigations of the officer. But Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama on Thursday said the police could not apply an exemption to Freedom of Information Act rules and must release the video by Nov. 25.

The judge then rejected a request by attorneys for the police to stay his ruling while they appeal. Freelance journalist Brandon Smith filed the lawsuit.

McDonald's death came at a time of heated national debate over police use of lethal force, especially against blacks. Fatal police shootings in Chicago averaged 17 a year between 2008 and 2014, according to data from Chicago's police review authority.

About three-quarters of people shot by Chicago police were black; the city's population is about one-third black. Almost all shootings were found to be justified, the authority found.

After the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked protests around the United States, some cities have opted to immediately release video of shootings in the name of transparency. Other cities have been reluctant to release them.

In April, Chicago agreed to pay $5 million in civil damages to McDonald's family, which had been exploring filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Jeffrey Neslund, a lawyer for McDonald's mother, Tina Hunter, said she hopes that a lengthy federal investigation of the shooting ends with the police officer being indicted.

He said Hunter does not want the video to be released.

"Like any mother, she doesn't want to see the execution of her son over and over again on YouTube and television. It's graphic, it's disturbing, and it's crystal clear that Laquan was not attacking or lunging at any police officer," Neslund said.

The Illinois Attorney General's office recently asked the city to release the video and said police failed to show how releasing it would interfere with the investigation. That opinion is not binding.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)