A Chicago police officer will not be charged in the shooting of a 25-year-old black man who authorities said was armed with a gun as he ran away from officers, prosecutors announced Monday, the same day the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into patterns of racial disparity in the use of force by Chicago police.
The investigation, announced by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, comes nearly two weeks after the release of a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times.
The federal investigation, which is separate from an existing federal investigation into last year’s shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, also will review how the department disciplines officers and handles misconduct accusations. Justice Department officials say they use such patterns-and-practices investigations to identify systemic failings in troubled police departments and to improve trust between police and the communities they serve.
“This mistrust from members of the community makes it more difficult to gain help within investigations, to encourage the victims and the witnesses of crime to speak up and to fulfill the most basic responsibilities of public safety officials,” Lynch said. “And when suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester, it can erupt into unrest.”
The civil rights probe follows recent ones in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, and comes as the police department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are under intense scrutiny over their handling of the Oct. 2014 death of McDonald. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Nov. 24, more than a year after the killing and just hours before the release of police dashboard camera footage showing the officer shooting the teenager.
Also Monday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said there would be no charges against Officer George Hernandez in the shooting of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson, whom authorities say pointed a gun at police before he was killed on Oct. 12, 2014.
Alvarez and Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy spent more than 30 minutes detailing evidence before showing the video, which, similar to the McDonald case, has no dashcam audio; the state’s attorney’s office overlaid police radio communications. The video showed Johnson running from police across a street with several officers in pursuit. One officer shooting. Johnson is not on screen when he was struck by two bullets.
The video was also slowed down to show what McCarthy said was a gun in Johnson’s hand; prosecutors say a loaded weapon was found in his hand after he was killed. She also said Johnson “ignored” officers’ commands to stop and drop his weapon and had been in a physical altercation with at least one other officer before he was shot.
“We’re in different times right now when we’re talking about transparency and what the public wants to see,” Alvarez said after showing the video of the shooting. “I have pretty much opened the door here.”
When asked why there was no audio on this video and others, Alvarez said: “That’s a problem for the Chicago police department, and I think they need to answer to that. … Time and time again we look at these videos and there is not any audio.”
Alvarez has been criticized for not filing charges earlier in the McDonald case, in which the video shows the teen veering away from officers on a four-lane street when Van Dyke, seconds after exiting his squad car, opens fire from close range. The officer continues shooting after McDonald crumples to the ground and is barely moving.
The Chicago City Council signed off on a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family even before the family filed a lawsuit, and city officials fought in court for months to keep the video from being released publicly. The city’s early efforts to suppress its release coincided with Emanuel’s re-election campaign, when the mayor was seeking African-American votes in a tight race.