Chicago police reports differ from video of teen's shooting

2015-12-05 16:37
A man is wheeled on a stretcher after being shot in the leg on Chicago's South Side. (AP Photo/Sun-Times Media, Alex Wroblewski)

A man is wheeled on a stretcher after being shot in the leg on Chicago's South Side. (AP Photo/Sun-Times Media, Alex Wroblewski)

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Chicago - Hundreds of pages of documents released by Chicago officials show police officers depicting a starkly contrasting narrative to squad car video footage showing a white officer shooting a black teenager 16 times.

The video, which led to days of protests and the firing of Chicago's police superintendent, shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald veering away from officers down a four-lane street in October 2014 before he was fatally shot.

The video shows officer Jason Van Dyke opening fire from close range and continuing to fire after McDonald crumples to the ground and then barely moves.

But several officers, including Van Dyke, who is now charged with first degree murder, filed official reports after the incident describing McDonald as aggressively approaching officers while armed with a knife, according to reports released late on Friday.

Van Dyke told an investigator that McDonald was "swinging the knife in an aggressive, exaggerated manner" and that McDonald "raised the knife across chest" and pointed it at Van Dyke, according to one police report. Multiple officers reported that even after McDonald was down, he kept trying to get up with the knife in his hand.

Cover up allegations

"In defence of his life, Van Dyke back-pedalled and fired his handgun at McDonald, to stop the attack," one report reads. "McDonald fell to the ground but continued to move and continued to grasp the knife, refusing to let go of it."

Van Dyke told an investigator that he feared that McDonald would rush him with the knife or throw it at him. He also noted a 2012 Chicago Police Department warning about a weapon that was a knife but was capable of firing a bullet, hence making it firearm, according to the reports.

The officers' portrayal of the incident, recorded in hundreds of pages of handwritten and typed reports, prompted police supervisors to rule at the time that McDonald's death was a justifiable homicide and within the bounds of the department's use of force guidelines. In some of the police reports, it's not clear who the author is.

The release of the reports comes amid mounting questions about the Chicago Police Department's handling of the incident, while activists allege the police and city officials engaged in active efforts to cover it up.

The US attorney's office is investigating the issue, and a number of officials have called for a broader intervention by the US Justice Department.

Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement late on Friday that the city's Independent Police Review Authority, not the Police Department, conducts all investigations of officer-involved shootings and that the agency was given the case report and videos.

The authority, which did not return a message left on Friday, has not released its report on the McDonald shooting.

Knife contradiction

"If the criminal investigation concludes that any officer participated in any wrongdoing, we will take swift action," Guglielmi said in an emailed statement.

City officials had fought in court for months to keep the video from being released publicly, before deciding in November not to fight a judge's order.

Messages left for Emanuel's spokesperson, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez' representative and a police union weren't immediately returned.

Another contradiction that emerged with the release of the reports is whether McDonald's knife was folded when officers recovered it at the scene.

When announcing charges against Van Dyke, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said McDonald's knife was folded. But one of the police reports said the knife's "blade was in the open position".

One of the reports noted what it called McDonald's "irrational behaviour", such as ignoring verbal directions and "growling" and making noises. PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, was found in McDonald's system, according to Alvarez and the medical examiner's report that included with the documents.

The release of the footage, which doesn't have sound, triggered protests and calls for public officials, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to resign.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called for an overall federal probe of police department practices, which Democratic presidential candidates to local Illinois politicians have echoed. Emanuel has also since announced the expansion a body camera programme and formed a task force.

Chicago authorities have not been able to explain why the footage released to the public, including from other squad cars on scene, doesn't have audio when department technologies allow for it.

Acting Superintendent John Escalante said that he issued a reminder to all officers to check that equipment works each time they get into police cars.

Watch online video on the shooting here (WARNING: Graphic content not suitable for minors or sensitive viewers):

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