Before police departments adopted the use of video and audio recording equipment, police reports and officer testimony was generally the only source of what happened on the scene. However, as video equipment gets smaller, lighter and cheaper, more police departments have dashboard cameras continually recording what takes place. When police reports and video evidence appear to differ, it may raise questions of police misconduct.
This was the issue surrounding the police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The police department claimed McDonald was threatening officers with a knife, and moved towards Officer Jason Van Dyke. However, a video released appears to show McDonald walking away from police officers carrying a small knife, when Officer Van Dyke shoots McDonald 16 times.
Van Dyke is now facing charges for first-degree murder. Public outrage resulted in public protests, an apology by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, creation of a task force, and the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. However, others say these actions are too little too late.
In an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune, State Senator Jacqueline Y. Collins said, “Task forces are useful in generating solutions to new and complex problems. But police brutality and racial disparities in law enforcement are nothing new.”
Senator Collins and others have called for Mayor Emanuel to ask the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the culture and leadership of the Chicago Police Department. Now, at the request of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the DOJ will be conducting a civil rights investigation into the police department.
In a statement released by the state attorney general's office, Madigan stated, “The shocking death of Laquan McDonald is the latest tragedy in our city that highlights serious questions about the use of unlawful and excessive force by Chicago police officers and the lack of accountability for such abuse. Trust in the Chicago Police Department is broken.”
The civilian agency that investigates excessive force claims, the Independent Police Review Authority, has faced criticism over the agencies handling of misconduct cases. U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has now been asked to look into the use of deadly force by Chicago police officers, deadly force investigations, police training, and whether there are any patterns of discrimination within the department.
The Special Litigation Section of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division will be conducting the investigation. Investigating police departments is nothing new for the Justice Department. Previous investigations have included the police departments of New Orleans, Seattle, Baltimore, and recently Ferguson, Missouri. The investigation may involve lengthy data gathering and a review of training material, citizen complaints, and interviews of individuals claiming civil rights violations. A report may still be months away regarding any pattern and practice of civil rights violations.
If you or someone you know has experienced a civil rights violation by the police, or other law enforcement officer, you do not have to stay silent out of fear that you will be harmed or harassed. Contact experienced Illinois civil rights lawyers who have successfully represented their clients in civil rights cases, to get them the justice they deserve.