Possibly widespread police misconduct in Laquan McDonald case

Attorneys for the estate of Laquan McDonald alleged in legal documents extensive police misconduct surrounding the fatal shooting of McDonald in 2014. A report published Friday on the CNN website (link) describes the allegations in detail.

As you probably know, Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged in November with first-degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on the night of 2014 October 20. A police car dashcam video shows that McDonald was veering away from the cluster of officers including Van Dyke when Van Dyke opened fire, firing 16 rounds at McDonald. The city had fought public release of the video for more than a year, and Van Dyke was charged with murder only hours before it was finally made public.

Van Dyke, along with other police officers present, claimed that McDonald had come toward him with a knife, putting him in fear of his life, though that’s clearly not what the video shows.

There have previously been reports of police erasing video files captured by a surveillance camera at a nearby Burger King.

What’s new in yesterday’s CNN report is a set of allegations that Chicago police attempted to intimidate eyewitnesses into changing their accounts and that they produced written reports misrepresenting what the witnesses had told police.

Some caution is in order since the allegations had been made in the course of seeking a financial settlement with the city, which was ultimately obtained. In addition, the attorneys did not make the witnesses in question available for interviews by CNN. (If I understand correctly, their names were originally in the documents but blacked out in the copies obtained by CNN.) However, given what else is known, the accusations seem reasonably credible and pretty disturbing. I wish they were more surprising.

Incidentally, the juxtaposition of this post with the immediately preceding one about a kind and generous police officer is an honest coincidence, but it does suggest a spectrum of police behavior. I’ve encountered people who insist that almost all police are corrupt and others who think the problem is just a few bad apples. As usual in the real world, it’s more complicated than that.

(Updated 2016 January 18 and January 23 in an effort to clarify some of the wording.)

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