CHICAGO (AP) — A judge's order for the Chicago Police Department to publicly release a video showing a fatal police shooting by Wednesday has raised concerns about what could happen when people get to see the incident for themselves.
The squad car dashcam video is of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old, being shot 16 times last year by a white police officer. As the city braces for the video's release, it also waits to learn the fate of Officer Jason Van Dyke. A decision on whether he will be indicted could come as soon as next week.
Here are some questions and answers ahead of the video's release:
Q: WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE SHOOTING?
A: On October 20, 2014, Chicago police responded to a 911 call of a man carrying a knife. When officers arrived, they ordered McDonald to drop the knife.
They have said McDonald, who according to an autopsy had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system, refused and started to walk away. The police union has said McDonald lunged with the knife at one point, but Jeffrey Neslund, a lawyer for the teen's family, said the video shows that police officers were about 15 feet from McDonald when Officer Jason Van Dyke started shooting.
The autopsy showed McDonald was shot 16 times, including at least twice in his back. Neslund said the teen was shot a number of times while he was lying on the ground.
Q: WHY WASN'T THE VIDEO RELEASED SOONER?
A: The Chicago Police Department, responding to a freelance journalist's Freedom of Information request, refused to release the video and said doing so could hamper the shooting investigations.
But activists and attorneys countered that the public had a right to see the video, which was captured by a police car dashboard camera. They said the department did not have the legal right to withhold the video because other agencies including the FBI are the ones investigating, not Chicago police.
On Thursday, a Cook County judge agreed and gave the department until Wednesday to release it. A few hours later, the city announced there would be no appeal and said it would comply with the order.
Q: WHO IS INVESTIGATING THE SHOOTING?
A: The Police Department has said various agencies are investigating the shooting, including the FBI and the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings in the city. Authorities also said the Department of Justice has started a federal grand jury investigation. As a result, Van Dyke could be charged in either state or federal court.
Former federal prosecutor Phil Turner said Van Dyke could be charged with violating McDonald's civil rights — a charge that, because the teen died, carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. County prosecutors could charge the officer with a host of crimes, including murder, but Turner said if Van Dyke is charged in federal court that the county would be prohibited from charging him as well.
It remains unclear where the investigations stand. Neslund, the McDonald family lawyer, has said a grand jury could meet to consider whether to indict Van Dyke as soon as next week.
Q: WHY ARE PEOPLE CONCERNED ABOUT REACTION TO THE VIDEO?
A: Some people, including McDonald's mother, did not want the video released. Neslund said the teen's mother fears it could lead to protests like ones in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, that sometimes grew violent after deaths of black suspects by police in those communities.
The Chicago Police Department has long been dogged by a reputation for brutality, particularly involving blacks.
Lawyers for the family who have viewed the video of McDonald being shot say it's graphic.
The Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent minister on the city's West Side, said residents are angered by the department's attempt to keep the public from seeing the video. He said residents also are upset that the officer is still working and "drawing a city paycheck" even if he has been stripped of his police powers.
Dan Herbert, the attorney representing Van Dyke, said the officer is concerned about the safety of his wife and children in the event the video prompts violence.
Q: HOW WILL THE VIDEO BE RELEASED?
A: Neither the city nor the Police Department will say how the video will be distributed to the media.
The Police Department has not said if it is making any special plans in anticipation of possible unrest. But a statement by the city suggests the department is preparing for demonstrations.
The department has experience with large and small demonstrations. It has been praised for how officers handled demonstrations during the NATO summit in 2012. But since then, some have questioned the way police have dealt with protest groups, including whether they have infiltrated such groups or used high-tech equipment to monitor protesters and make it more difficult for them to communicate with each other.