Documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune reveal that Chicago law enforcement ignored an inspector general’s recommendations to terminate commanding officers who corroborated false statements about the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. Police also rushed to defend Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times over a period of 15 seconds, just six seconds after he exited his squad car.
During his investigation of the shooting and aftermath, Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson discovered that a deputy chief on patrol the night of McDonald’s death, David McNaughton, “approved false police reports submitted by Van Dyke, Walsh and a third officer,” according to the Tribune. Ferguson also said in his report that McNaughton had lied to the news media, rewording a police statement to say that McDonald was approaching police when Van Dyke opened fire.
Additionally, Ferguson found that Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy watched the video and “let stand reports that contained materially false statements and put forth a false narrative, which served to exaggerate the threat McDonald posed at the time of the shooting.” The inspector general concluded that officers also lied about the details of the shooting by painting McDonald as more threatening than he actually was.
Ferguson ultimately recommended that 11 officers, including Roy and McNaughton, be fired. Instead of heeding his suggestion, the Chicago Police Department allowed the commanding officers to quietly retire without informing the public of their alleged wrongdoing. The department reportedly convened a meeting of top officers soon after the shooting, where everyone was in agreement that Van Dyke’s actions were justified.
But Ferguson’s investigation wasn’t the first report offering evidence that officers lied. A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, Pat Camden, publicly claimed that the teenager was holding a knife and “lunged at police,” but damning video footage released in November 2015 showed McDonald walking away when Dyke unloaded his gun. Camden also said that McDonald was shot in the chest, and downplayed the 15 additional shots to his head, neck, arms, legs, and back.
Chicago officials — including members of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff — conspired to cover up the video for more than a year. Attorneys for the city tried to pay McDonald’s family to keep quiet about the video. Then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez waited one year to release the video, and only did so because a judge ordered the city to publicize it in response to a journalist’s public records request. Only then did Alvarez charge Van Dyke with first degree murder.
Witnesses also said Van Dyke and fellow officers at the scene attempted to destroy camera footage in the surrounding area.
Emanuel immediately jumped into damage control mode by apologizing for the city’s history of police violence, creating a task force to “review the system of accountability, oversight and training” within the CPD, firing Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and terminating the leader of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), a corrupt agency that is supposed to investigate officer misconduct. In May, Emmanuel proposed that IPRA be disbanded.
But the video of McDonald’s shooting documented just another chapter in Chicago’s long history of police violence and cover-ups, which involves rank-and-file officers — who intentionally destroyed equipment that could be used against them — as well as the state’s attorney. Before she was voted out of office, Alvarez repeatedly failed to charge — or undercharged — officers who killed unarmed people.