CHICAGO (AP) — A judge on Thursday ordered the Chicago Police Department to release a video of an officer fatally shooting a black teenager, but the attorney for the department asked for more time while the city decides whether to appeal the decision.
The video is graphic, according to some who have seen it: The 17-year-old wielding a small knife is walking away from police when one officer opens fire, shooting the teen 16 times.
Police had refused to release footage of the October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, but a judge may order them to do so Thursday in response to a journalist's public records request.
Investigators have said McDonald refused to drop a knife when officers confronted him while responding to a call about a person walking down a street with a knife on the city's southwest side. The shooting was recorded on police dash camera video, but city attorneys said it wouldn't be released until a federal grand jury finishes its investigation of the shooting.
McDonald's mother also doesn't want the video released. She fears it could lead to violent protests like those in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, after police-involved deaths of black residents in those cities, according to the family's attorney, Jeffrey Neslund.
Neslund, who has seen the video, said the footage shows McDonald was armed with a small knife. But he said it also clearly shows that the teen was walking away from police when a white officer, who was about 15 feet away, opened fire.
"You see the officer begin to shoot, and he (McDonald) spins and falls to the ground," he said. Neslund said the officer then "continues to shoot him."
The Chicago City Council took the unusual step in April of approving a $5 million settlement with McDonald's family, even though the family hadn't filed a lawsuit, after being advised to do so by a city attorney who had seen the video.
An autopsy report showed that McDonald was shot 16 times, including at least twice in his back. The report also said PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, was found in McDonald's system.
Police have said the officer who shot, later identified by his attorney and others as Jason Van Dyke, was stripped of his police powers and assigned to desk duty after the incident. Police have released few details about the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation, but the city's attorney has said McDonald was walking away from police when he was shot.
Van Dyke's attorney, Dan Herbert, said that in this "day and age" there is the possibility that someone could try to harm Van Dyke because they do not understand the context in which the shooting occurred. But Herbert is bracing for the judge to order the video released.
"I don't see any legal basis to suppress the video," he said Thursday morning.
After reviewing Smith's request, Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office asked police in a strongly worded letter earlier this month to release the video. The letter said the Police Department was using "unsubstantiated" claims in arguing that releasing the footage would hinder an investigation or deprive anyone of a fair trial. The letter said police had no legal right to withhold the video because another agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, was conducting the investigation.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment Wednesday when asked about Thursday's hearing and did not immediately return a call for comment on Thursday.