City of Chicago ends objection to release of police shooting video
Cedrick Chatman, 17, was unarmed when he was shot
His mother's attorney says the video shows the teen "wasn't the aggressor"
The city of Chicago abruptly changed course late Wednesday, dropping its long-standing objection to the release of videos showing the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teen three years ago.
Cedrick Chatman, 17, was shot as he fled from two officers on January 7, 2013.
The attorneys for Chatman’s mother, Linda Chatman, had been pushing for months for the videos to be released as part of a wrongful death suit, arguing the images show the teen was running from police and never turned toward the officers.
On December 23, just weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged a new era of transparency, the city filed to keep the video out of the public view.
That changed Wednesday afternoon when the city’s top attorney, corporation counsel Steve Patton, filed a new motion to vacate its previous objections. The move came on the eve of a judge’s ruling on whether to release the video, and hours after CNN reported the city’s earlier objections.
“With respect to the release of videos of police incidents, the city of Chicago is working to find the right balance between the public’s interest in disclosure and the importance of protecting the integrity of investigations and the judicial process,” Patton said in a written statement.
“In this case, the city sought a protective order consistent with its decades-long policy. We recognize the policy needs to be updated, and while we await guidance from the Task Force on Police Accountability, we are working to be as transparent as possible.”
Brian Coffman, the lead attorney for Chatman’s mother, was flabbergasted at the turn of events.
“My reaction is that this is something they could have released not only a month ago, but years ago,” Coffman said. “Who made this decision to all of a sudden change face and why was it made? As recently as three weeks ago, they were still objecting to it.”
The shooting of Cedrick Chatman
In the police account of the shooting, Chatman ditched a stolen car and ran from two officers. As the officers pursued on foot, police say, the 5-foot-7, 133-pound Chatman turned toward them. Officer Kevin Fry told investigators he feared for his partner’s life and fired four shots.
Fry said he believed Chatman was armed. It turned out the teen was carrying a black iPhone box, according to police reports.
The original independent police investigator wanted to rule that the shooting was unjustified, saying the teen fled from the officers without posing a threat or turning toward them. That investigator, Lorenzo Davis, said he was fired when he refused to change his findings to a justified shooting.
A new investigator was assigned and ruled the shooting justified. The officers were not charged and remain on their beats.
Attorney defends officers’ actions
Andy Hale, an attorney for Fry and Officer Lou Toth, issued a statement late Wednesday defending the officers’ actions after the city’s about-face:
“As these videos will demonstrate, the facts in this incident are clear. Officers Fry and Toth identified a carjacked vehicle and had reason to believe that the suspect was armed. After disobeying the officer’s order to exit the vehicle, the suspect reached to the floor and ran out of the vehicle with a dark object in his hand. As he was fleeing, the suspect turned toward the officers, with the dark object in his right hand, causing one officer to open fire.
“A medical expert has reported that a bullet entered the suspect’s right forearm and then entered the lower right side of the abdomen. A nationally recognized police use of force expert has also produced a report concluding that this shooting was justified.”
Chatman “wasn’t the agressor”
Coffman, meanwhile, has said the video shows the teen “wasn’t the aggressor at all.”
“Mr. Chatman is running away from the police. He’s unarmed. No knife, no gun,” Coffman has said. “Nothing but an iPhone box was recovered at the scene.”
Earlier, Coffman said the case represented everything Chicago has endured in recent months: a black teen gunned down by police, a city refusing to release the video, and the possibility police made false statements to justify the shooting.
“You have everything going on in Chicago right now rolled into one case,” Coffman said. “The importance of releasing the video is it helps promote the change in transparency that everybody wants and the mayor has pledged.”
The mayor has said the city should reconsider its previous policy of not releasing videos during investigations. That statement was made after the release of the police shooting video that shows Laquan McDonald getting shot 16 times.
Hearing to determine if videos will be released
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman is holding a hearing Thursday about releasing the Chatman videos. Five cameras captured all or part of the shooting of Chatman: one at a school across the street, two at a food market and two placed atop light poles by police.
“I know there’s a lot of public interest in this, and for good reason,” Gettleman said at a hearing on the matter in early December. “It’s definitely relevant.”
Two days before Christmas, the city filed its motion objecting to the videos’ release. “Defendants are not arguing that this video may never be made public; rather, they merely seek to avoid the release of the video prior to the conclusion of the proceedings to avoid any prejudice of the jury pool,” wrote Jill Russell, an assistant corporation counsel for the city.
The attorneys for Chatman’s mother filed a separate motion, saying the videos “speak for themselves, and a reasonable jury may indisputably conclude” that the teen didn’t turn toward the officers.
Releasing the videos would not change that fact, wrote Mark Smolens, a co-counsel for Chatman’s mother.
Investigator says he was ordered to change findings
If the videos depict what the attorneys for Chatman’s mother allege, they have the potential to create ripples throughout the city and within the police department, especially in light of Davis’ claim that he was ordered to find the shooting justified.
Scott Ando, the head of Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates all police-involved shootings, was sacked amid the fallout from the Laquan McDonald case.
Sharon Fairley, the acting chief of IPRA, said last week she has reached out to Davis and would like to meet with him. “I’d like to hear his story,” she told reporters at a news conference.
Beyond the Chatman case, Davis has said he was ordered to change the outcomes of three or four other cases. He has filed a wrongful termination suit against the city.
Davis, a longtime Chicago police officer, told CNN that he hopes to soon meet with the new acting chief of IPRA. “I hope that she does look at the cases herself.”
Davis has previously said the video “shows a shooting that should not have occurred.”
“In my view, if you do not have to kill a person, then why would you?” he said.
Officer was subject of concern
Newly released documents from the city show that the case raised the concern of the mayor’s office months ago.
Shortly after the mayor won re-election, Adam Collins, a top aide to the mayor, sent an email to Martin Maloney, who was a police spokesman at the time.
“As I mentioned the other day, we need to gather up our planning stuff for the next few months – both proactively and reactively,” Collins wrote on April 8, two days after Emanuel was re-elected. “What else should we be monitoring in terms of outstanding reactive stories?”
Among the items listed under the heading “CPD – Reactive” is simply “Kevin Fry,” the officer who shot Chatman.
Fry has had 30 complaints lodged against him over the years, including 10 allegations of excessive use of force. The police department found every complaint against Fry to be unwarranted.
CNN’s Rosa Flores and Bill Kirkos contributed to this report.