Last week, more than 13 months after the tragic shooting of Laquan McDonald, Chicago officials, under a court order, released the horrifying video of the teenager being shot 16 times by a Chicago Police Officer who had arrived on the scene less than 30 seconds prior to opening fire.
This week, we learned from the manager of a Burger King near the scene that surveillance video was released by police and WGN-TV reported that he testified about this to a federal grand jury.
In a report from NBC News in Chicago, police came to the Burger King to look at video that the restaurant’s surveillance video system captured. But some files disappeared. The manager says 86 minutes of video was deleted.
NBC 5 News said, “News has obtained screen grabs of what appears to be at least one police officer in the Burger King at what appears to be a computer terminal that night.”
Police have denied the deleted 86 minutes, but as News 5 reports, “as they were looking at security footage, another Burger King security camera was looking at them.”
The manager said all video recorders were on and working properly that night, “but after police officers spent three hours inside, he said, the video was gone.”
Jay Darshane, District Manager of Burger King said, “We had no idea they were going to sit there and delete the files.” He added, “I mean, we were just trying to help the police officers.”
The missing video gap in the footage ran from 9:13 pm to 10:39 pm. Jason Van Dyke fired his first shot at 9:57, according to the charges.
News 5 reports that Prosecutor Anita Alvarez said at her press conference “that no one in her judgment tampered with the Burger King video.” The broadcast shows her stating that “forensic testing was done on the Burger King surveillance to determine if anyone had tampered with the evidence and the testing did not reveal any such evidence.”
Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy claimed “technical difficulties” with the footage, but that in no way was anything tampered with. Two days after the News 5 broadcast, Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Mr. McCarthy.
Now the question turns to how far up the chain this will go. Four years ago, Mayor Emanuel brought Mr. McCarthy to Chicago and last week maintained confidence in his work.
On Tuesday, the mayor faced a growing set of questions as to why the video was not released earlier this year as Mr. Emanuel faced a heated challenge for his re-election – a challenge from the left.
He responded, “We have a practice, not unique to Chicago, that you don’t do anything as it relates to material evidence that would hamper, hinder, compromise an investigation.” He added: “Yet it’s clear you all want and the public deserves that information. There are two conflicting principles.”
Activists have called for Mayor Emanuel, a three-term congressman and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama, to step down. He has refused those calls.
“We have a process called the election,” he said. “The voters spoke. I’ll be held accountable for the decisions and actions that I make.”
That call for resignation was joined later this week by Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, who said, “I join with those calling for a federal investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department. Furthermore, any official who helped suppress the videotape of Laquan McDonald’s murder should be held accountable.”
He added, “And any elected official with knowledge that the tape was being suppressed or improperly withheld should resign. No one should be shielded by power or position,” he said in the statement.
While he did not mention names, the only elected officials under fire to step down are Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will now investigate what is called a pattern-or-practice probe. Justice Department spokesman Dena Iverson said on Friday that “the department is carefully reviewing the requests for a pattern-or-practice investigation that have been made regarding the Chicago Police Department.”
Mayor Emanuel, after initially expressing hesitation, is now welcoming the review.
A pattern-or-practice inquiry is an extensive review with a mission to discover and “reform serious patterns and practices of excessive force, biased policing and other unconstitutional practices by law enforcement,” according to the Justice Department.
In a scathing editorial on Tuesday, the New York Times wrote: “The cover-up that began 13 months ago when a Chicago police officer executed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on a busy street might well have included highly ranked officials who ordered subordinates to conceal information. But the conspiracy of concealment exposed last week when the city, under court order, finally released a video of the shooting could also be seen as a kind of autonomic response from a historically corrupt law enforcement agency that is well versed in the art of hiding misconduct, brutality — and even torture.”
For them, Mayor Emanuel “demonstrated a willful ignorance when he talked about the murder charges against the police officer who shot Mr. McDonald, seeking to depict the cop as a rogue officer. He showed a complete lack of comprehension on Tuesday when he explained that he had decided to fire his increasingly unpopular police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, not because he failed in his leadership role, but because he had become ‘a distraction.’”
The Times called the task force “too little, too late.”
They noted, “The dash cam video might have been buried forever had lawyers and journalists not been tipped off to its existence. Mr. Emanuel, who was running for re-election at the time of the shooting, fought to keep it from becoming public, arguing that releasing it might taint a federal investigation.”
However, the Justice Department said on Tuesday “that the department did not ask the city to withhold the video from the public because of its investigation. That makes this whole episode look like an attempt by the city, the police and prosecutors to keep the video under wraps, knowing the political problems it would most likely create.”
Fortunately, the Times writes, “a journalist working the case sued for release of the video. When a county judge ordered the city to make it public last week, more than a year had passed since the shooting, and public confidence in the police, prosecutors and the mayor’s office had been exhausted.”
–David M. Greenwald reporting