Justice Department to investigate Chicago police

  • In this Oct. 20, 2014, frame from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being shot by officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago.

    In this Oct. 20, 2014, frame from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being shot by officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago. Chicago Police Department via AP

  • Laquan McDonald was shot by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke Oct. 20, 2014.

    Laquan McDonald was shot by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke Oct. 20, 2014.

  • Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, background center, leaves the Cook County jail after posting bail in Chicago on Nov. 30. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

    Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, background center, leaves the Cook County jail after posting bail in Chicago on Nov. 30. He has been charged with first-degree murder. Associated Press

 
Daily Herald news services
Updated 12/6/2015 7:27 PM

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Justice Department is expected to launch a wide-ranging investigation this week into the patterns and practices of the Chicago Police Department after recent protests over a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly before it was announced and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

 

A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department told The Washington Post Sunday morning he did not know anything about the possibility of a second, broader federal probe into the force. A Justice Department spokesman did not confirm to the Post that a new probe into the Chicago Police Department is imminent.

"Civil rights division lawyers are reviewing the many requests for an investigation, which is the department's standard process, and the attorney general is briefed regularly on the review and expects to make a decision very soon," a department official told the Post.

The civil rights probe follows others recently in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, and comes as the police department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are under intense scrutiny over their handling of the October 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan 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.

The video shows McDonald 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 video does not include sound, which authorities have not explained.

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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.

Since the release of the video, Emanuel forced Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign and formed a task force to examine the department. But the calls for the mayor to resign -- something he said he won't do -- have grown louder from protesters in the city, including more than 200 people who shouted that he step down during a Sunday afternoon march. Protesters counted to 16 in reference to the shots fired, a number that has taken on a symbolic significance since the demonstrations began.

Emanuel initially said a federal civil rights investigation of Chicago police tactics would be "misguided." He later reversed course and said he would welcome the Justice Department's involvement -- something that politicians including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan have called for.

On Friday, Chicago released hundreds of pages that show police officers reported a very different version of the McDonald encounter than video shows. In the documents, police officers portray McDonald as being far more menacing than he appears in dashcam footage. That further angered activists and protesters, who were already accusing the city of a cover-up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Neither Emanuel's office nor the police department immediately responded to a request for comment on reports of a federal investigation.

The Justice Department in the last six years has opened more than 20 investigations of police departments. In March, the department released a scathing report of the Ferguson police force that found pervasive civil rights abuses. It opened an investigation of Baltimore police in May in response to the death of a black man in police custody.

Justice Department investigations typically look for systematic violations of federal law. When it announced the Baltimore probe, the department said it would focus on issues including the use of deadly force, stops, searches, arrests and whether there is a pattern of discrimination in policing.

Under Obama, Attorneys General Loretta Lynch and her predecessor, Eric Holder, have used patterns-and-practices investigations to aggressively probe police departments for potential constitutional violations, investigating dozens of departments since 2009, The Washington Post reports. Those probes have found patterns of excessive force by police in Cleveland; Albuquerque; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department; Portland; New Orleans; Seattle; Puerto Rico; and Warren, Ohio.

Congress empowered the federal government to conduct such investigations in the aftermath of the 1991 videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles officers and the riots that followed. A law passed in 1994 gave the Justice Department the power to investigate and force systemic changes to local police departments -- and to sue the departments if they do not comply.

Emanuel acknowledged "the checkered history of misconduct in the Chicago Police Department" in an opinion column published over the weekend in the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune.

"Chicago is facing a defining moment on the issues of crime and policing and the even larger issues of truth and justice," Emanuel wrote. "To meet this moment, we need to conduct a painful but honest reckoning of what went wrong -- not just in one instance, but over decades."

Of 409 shootings involving Chicago police since September, 2007, only two have led to allegations against an officer being found credible, the Chicago Tribune said, citing data from the agency which investigates police cases.

The University of Chicago said last month that an analysis by its civil rights and police accountability clinic found that of 56,000 complaints against Chicago police, only a fraction led to disciplinary action.

In one of the most notorious cases of wrongdoing, dozens of men, mostly black, said they were subjected to torture from a Chicago police squad headed by former commander Jon Burge during the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and many spent years in prison. Burge was convicted of lying about the torture and served 4½ years in prison.

"We have called for police reform as it relates to this police department ... and we've also called for accountability in city government," Rose Joshua told The Washington Post. She's president of Chicago South Side NAACP, which had previously called for a Justice Department probe into the city's police. "It should be something that's broad. It should be a detailed probe and should look into the specific civil rights complaints filed over the years by activists here on the ground."

Joshua said that she welcomes the federal probe and hopes that it will address the underlying policing issues. She also said she is hopeful that the federal investigation will be a step toward policing reform -- even more so than the resignation of McCarthy.

"We have systemic problems, and if we can find a solution to systemic issues, it's going to take the community to do that," Joshua said. "At this juncture, I'm saddened and afraid and I'm wondering if we can do that."

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