Laquan McDonald Attorneys: Cops Shut Up Witnesses at Killing

Emails describe alleged witness intimidation and also show efforts to keep details about the teen’s death confidential.

Ting Shen/Xinhua

CHICAGO — Attorneys for Laquan McDonald’s estate accused the Chicago Police Department of pressuring eyewitnesses to change their stories about the teenager who was killed by a cop.

Eyewitnesses were questioned by police immediately after Officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014 and some of them supposedly gave statements contrary to police’s version of events, namely that McDonald “lunged” at Van Dyke with a knife.

The allegations were made during negotiations over a $5 million settlement between McDonald’s estate and the city, as revealed in emails released by the city last week.

McDonald’s attorneys said when eyewitness stories didn’t jibe with the police version of events, cops pressured the bystanders to change their stories.

“One witness whom the police reports alleged did not see the shooting, in fact told multiple police officers that he saw the shooting, and it was ‘like an execution,’” Michael Robbins wrote Thomas Platt, deputy corporation counsel of Chicago, on March 23. “Civilian witnesses have told us that they were held against their will for hours, intensively questioned by detectives, during which they were repeatedly pressured by police to change their statements. When the witnesses refused to do so, the investigating officers simply fabricated civilian accounts in the reports.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel should have been aware of these allegations given that Platt’s boss briefed him about the settlement talks “towards the end of March.” City Hall and the Law Department have not said what corporation counsel Stephen Patton told Emanuel.

No dissenting witness statements made it into the full police report on the McDonald shooting, as DNA Info noted. Most importantly, none of the witnesses police quoted in that report describe anything close to what the dashcam video proves really happened. The police department said it could not comment about specific allegations due to ongoing investigations into the shooting by Cook County’s prosecutor and the Justice Department.

After the crime scene was cleared, City Hall went into lockdown mode, coordinating messages with the police, the Law Department, and the Independent Police Review Authority: anyone and everyone who may come into contact with a reporter.

One month later, a Cook County child welfare advocate submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for police reports pertaining to McDonald’s death. CPD denied the request citing the Juvenile Records Act.

An FOIA officer reported to her sergeant that no one else had made public records requests in the McDonald’s death—including news organizations.

With IPRA officially investigating the “officer-involved shooting,” reports and documents related to the incident could be locked down by CPD, which continually cited the ongoing investigation.

Reports were asking questions, which meant City Hall needed to give them an answer: The dashcam video will be released once the investigation is complete in order not to taint it.

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However, it appears the investigation was already tainted from what the McDonald estate’s attorneys said about witness intimidation.