Feds to conduct civil rights probe of Chicago police – Chicago Tribune
The U.S. Department of Justice will open a wide-ranging civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department after the release of video of a patrolman’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald and police reports from the officers on the scene that conflict with that video, sources told the Tribune on Sunday.
A law enforcement official familiar with the coming investigation said the inquiry likely will be announced “in the next week” and is expected to focus on officers’ use of deadly force — including the system of oversight of police shootings — as well as training and community engagement.
Calls for a Justice Department investigation have been growing since the release of the video, which shows Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as McDonald — carrying a small knife — walked away from officers on a commercial strip on South Pulaski Road in October 2014.
The department had claimed that McDonald pointed the knife at officers and moved toward Van Dyke. What’s more, several officers at the scene said in reports that McDonald presented a threat; at least one said he seemed poised to attack after he had been shot and was on the ground.
The video, which prompted protests upon its release and led to the firing of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, undercuts those accounts.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was among the first officials to call for a federal civil rights investigation, appealing directly to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She was followed by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who also has been under fire for her office’s handling of the case. Mayor Rahm Emanuel initially said he opposed an investigation, but abruptly changed course and said he would welcome federal intervention.
Federal authorities in Chicago are already conducting a criminal investigation of the McDonald shooting. The new federal probe will be civil, not criminal, and will have a significantly wider scope.
In a statement Sunday, Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins echoed the mayor’s comment about welcoming a federal investigation.
“We will let the Department of Justice address what action they will or will not choose to take,” Collins said, “but as was made clear last week, we welcome the engagement of the Department of Justice as we work to restore trust in our police department and improve our system of police accountability.”
On Sunday night, the chief administrator of Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, the civilian agency that investigates the police use of excessive force, said he was resigning effective immediately. Scott Ando and his agency have long been a target of criticism, as was its predecessor, the Office of Professional Standards. Both were accused of failing to conduct meaningful investigations of police misconduct.
“I had a frank and honest conversation with the mayor’s staff and have come to the decision that is the best thing for me to do in putting the interests of the city and its residents and the administration ahead of myself,” Ando told the Tribune on Sunday night. “And I am very proud of the accomplishments that I have achieved during my two years as chief administrator.”
Most recently, Ando was accused of forcing a supervisor to change findings that found officers culpable in shootings. Lorenzo Davis, a retired Chicago police commander who joined IPRA as an investigator and became a supervisor, sued the agency in federal court in September after he said Ando ordered him to change his conclusions in six cases in which he found officers wrongly shot citizens.
Emanuel quickly named Ando’s successor: Sharon Fairley, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is first deputy and general counsel of the city’s Office of the Inspector General.
The Justice Department’s new investigation will be conducted by the Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The unit has at least 15 attorneys who do nothing but conduct such inquiries. They primarily use a 1994 law passed following the beating of Rodney King by police in Los Angeles.
Since 2009, the civil rights division has investigated almost two dozen police departments in places such as New Orleans, Seattle, Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. The investigations are typically called “pattern and practice” investigations from a federal law that bans “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers” that deprives people of their constitutional rights. Investigations can take months, if not years, and often result in lengthy reports and then negotiations of a consent decree that requires systemic reforms overseen by independent monitors.
Jonathan M. Smith, a former chief of the Special Litigation Section, told the Tribune last week that the investigation in Ferguson took about six months, but a similar effort in Chicago would probably take much longer. Smith said the probes include an extensive review of written data, such as police training manuals and citizen complaints; interviews of police officers; and community input, including from the alleged victims of civil rights violations.
The inquiries are separate from criminal investigations of individual officers. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago has confirmed that it is conducting an investigation into the McDonald shooting and sources have told the Tribune that some 80 people have appeared before a federal grand jury. Among the criminal acts the grand jury is investigating, according to sources, is obstruction of justice in connection with the police reports. Questions also have been raised about why videos from the scene do not contain audio, as required.
The state’s attorney’s office has charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder. He is free on bond.
Longtime observers of the force said a top-to-bottom investigation was warranted long before McDonald’s October 2014 shooting.