Attorneys for the city of Chicago on Thursday released grainy 2013 surveillance video showing the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old black carjacking suspect by a white police officer.
A federal judge granted the release hours earlier after the city withdrew its objection to it being made public under intense pressure from activists demanding more transparency and reforms to a police department under scrutiny over cases of alleged misconduct.
The officer shot Cedrick Chatman during a foot chase, telling investigators that he fired after seeing Chatman turn toward officers with a dark object in his hand that he thought was a gun. Investigators later determined it was an iPhone box.
Chatman’s mother is suing the city and the two police officers who pursued the teen. Her attorney, Brian Coffman, says the teen never turned toward the officers and posed no threat.
Questions about the Chatman video follow the Nov. 24 release of another video that made headlines. That video shows white officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The city fought its release for more than a year, making it public only after a state court ordered it to do so. The video and the delay in releasing it led to protests, calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign and a federal civil-rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
The videos in the Chatman case come from several surveillance cameras that captured at least parts of the Jan. 7, 2013, incident in a South Shore neighborhood during daylight hours.
His family had asked that the video be made public as it sued the city over the shooting, arguing it would counter the city’s narrative that Chatman posed a danger to police.
City attorneys, until Wednesday, fought to keep it under seal on grounds its release could taint any jury pool should the civil case go to trial. They said in a Wednesday court filing that the city was dropping its opposition in an effort to be more transparent while it waits for a recently created special task force to review policies regarding the release of videos showing disputed police shootings.
Steve Patton, Emanuel’s top legal adviser said in a statement that “we are working to be as transparent as possible.”
At Thursday’s hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman sharply criticized the city attorneys for suddenly reversing course on the video’s release after spending weeks trying to prevent it.
“I went to a lot of trouble to decide this issue, and then I get this motion last night (Wednesday) saying that this is the Age of Enlightenment with the city and we’re going to be transparent,” Gettleman said. “I think it’s irresponsible.”
Chatman family lawyer Brian Coffman said he was pleasantly surprised at the change of heart but that he believes Chicago officials knew Gettleman was poised to rule against them at Thursday’s previously scheduled hearing.
“It is a political move to save face,” Coffman said.
Andrew Hale, a lawyer for two officers named as defendants in the lawsuit, said in an email Wednesday that minutes before the shooting Chatman refused officers’ orders and jumped out of a car after grabbing the item that turned out to be the box.
“As he was fleeing, the suspect turned toward the officers, with the dark object in his right hand, causing one officer to open fire,” Hale’s email said.
The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, cleared the officer who shot Chatman of any wrongdoing. However, court filings allege that the agency cleared the officer only after an investigator who opposed that finding, Lorenzo Davis, was fired. Davis has filed a separate lawsuit about his dismissal. IPRA has declined to comment on Davis’ case because the litigation is ongoing.
Updated Thursday, January 14, 2016 at 5:53 pm