CHICAGO (AP) — The city of Chicago did an about-face Wednesday in asking a federal judge to lift a protective order to allow the public release of video that shows a white police officer fatally shooting a black suspect in a car theft in 2013.
It wasn't clear when the city would release the footage of Cedrick Chatman's death, but it could happen as early as Thursday, when a judge is likely to lift the protective order that had kept the video from the public. The city's law office declined to comment on the possible timing of any release of the video.
Questions surrounding the Chatman video follow the Nov. 24 release of video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The city fought the release of the McDonald video for more than a year, drawing sharp criticism and calls for the city to change how it deals with such cases. The video also led to protests, calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign and a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
Chatman was a 17-year-old a suspect in a car theft when an officer killed him on Jan. 7, 2013. According to court documents, a high school's security camera recorded police chasing Chatman in the South Shore neighborhood during daylight hours and recorded one officer fatally shooting him.
His family had sought the release of the video as it sued the city over the shooting, but city attorneys had fought to keep it under seal until legal proceedings end.
City attorneys said in a filing in U.S. District Court Wednesday that the city is dropping its opposition to the release in an effort to be more transparent while it waits for a recently created special task force to review policies regarding the release of such videos.
"We recognize the (city's video release) policy needs to be updated, and while we await guidance from the Task Force on Police Accountability, we are working to be as transparent as possible," said Steve Patton, Emanuel's top legal adviser.
Chatman family lawyer Brian Coffman said he was pleasantly surprised at the city's change of heart but that he believes Chicago officials knew the judge was poised to rule against them Thursday at a previously scheduled hearing on the protective order.
"In the 11th hour, they want to take the air out of the room and say, 'Now, we're falling on our swords,'" Coffman said. "It is a political move to save face."
Since the family and the city now both agree the video should be made public, it is likely that U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman will allow it to be released.
The primary dispute in the case is over whether Chatman had something in his hand and turned toward police before he was shot. The city says he did; Chatman family lawyers say he didn't. Investigators later said the object in Chatman's hand turned out to be a small box.
Both sides agree the camera that caught the incident was at a distance and the footage is of low quality. But the Chatman family lawyers have said it's clear enough to show the teenager didn't turn.
Chatman's relatives contend the video will counter the city's narrative that Chatman posed a danger to police. Until Wednesday, the city argued that Chatman's case would likely end up before a jury and that unsealing the video before then would taint the jury pool.
The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, cleared the officer who shot Chatman of any wrongdoing. However, court filings allege that the agency cleared the officer only after an investigator who opposed that finding was fired. The fired investigator, Lorenzo Davis, has filed a separate lawsuit. IPRA has declined to comment on Davis' case because the litigation is ongoing.
Andrew Hale, a lawyer for two officers named as defendants in the Chatman family's lawsuit, said in an email Wednesday that the video will show his clients acted properly. Minutes before the shooting, he said, Chatman refused officers' orders and jumped out of a car after grabbing the item that turned out to be the box.
"As he was fleeing, the suspect turned toward the officers, with the dark object in his right hand, causing one officer to open fire," Hale's email said. Messages seeking additional comment left at Hale's office were not returned.
There are videos from other security cameras, but attorneys say none capture the chase and the shooting as the main video in question.
If the judge signs off on the video's release, Coffman — who has seen the footage — said he would ask that the city release all available videos in their entirety.
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This story has been corrected to reflect that email from lawyer for officers was sent Wednesday, not Thursday.