A trove of documents detailing 101 open cases involving Chicago police was released Friday as part of an effort to heal the mistrust between a broken city and its residents. The evidence, which includes videos, audio recordings and police reports, had previously not been available to the public.
The numbers: What's in the files
Number of cases in document dump
Number of cases that contain video evidence
Cases in which those in custody allege excessive force
Many of the videos are blurry, grainy or from bystanders who were capturing interactions between police and residents. Some offer few clues as to what led to the arrest, incident, shooting or death of the subject.
Audio from 911 calls – much of it from residents who are terrified to go outside to see what’s happening – provide a glimpse into how intense moments of gun violence is paralyzing this community.
“I don’t want them to see my face,” one lady tells dispatchers after she reports gunfire.
After hearing four shots fired outside his home, another man asks the 911 dispatcher if he can call back later to find out what happened.
“I want to know if I need to protect my family,” he says.
’They’re shooting at him! They’re shooting at him!’
Many of the videos only capture part of the encounter with police, and documents, for the most part, reveal few clues as to the context surrounding them.
In a video from June 2014, Michael Cote tries to drive through a narrow street between police cars and hits a nearby building. Video captured from an apartment above shows Cote maneuver the car in an attempt to flee. Then the police fire shots at his vehicle.
“They’re shooting at him! They’re shooting him! They’re ramming him! Holy f***,” the person recording the video says as he tries to narrate the scene unfolding before him.
Cote “drove his vehicle directly in the officer’s direction, thus placing him in fear of his life and the lives of the officers,” the superior officer later wrote in his review of the incident.
Another video, from October 2015, shows Albert Payne attempting several times to use a phone at a jail. At one point, the officer in the video grabs Payne near the neck and wrestles him to the ground. A second officer walks over from behind a desk. Payne later stands up and leaves the room with the officer. There is no audio, and it is unclear what provoked the incident. Payne was at the jail for possession of marijuana, according to Bail Bond City.
Others documents or audio files detail tense moments between officers and those armed with guns.
In March 2014, officers responded to a call regarding a man named Joshua Magsby, who reportedly had a gun. “Be careful he has a gun to his head,” a dispatcher told the officers. Officer Anthony Sabella told Magsby to drop the weapon. According to the police report, Magsby then allegedly turned the gun on Sgt. Brian Holy, and Sabella shot him.
He was arrested and taken to the hospital. The gun was later determined to be a replica.
In June 2014, an officer pulled over a vehicle and the driver immediately opened fire. “Officer down! officer down!” one cop on the scene frantically shouts.
Many of the reports filed by superior officers said the police acted within reason, and feared for their lives before either opening fire or Tasing a suspect. That’s exactly the determination Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority is investigating in these cases.
When asked about the agency’s record of siding with police officers on officer involved shootings, IPRA’s chief administrator said, “That has been the history of the agency, I’m not sure that’s the case going forward.”
Why Chicago did this
Tension in the city has reached a fever pitch in December when protesters called for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city leaders to step down after the release of the police shooting video of Laquan McDonald, a black teen who was shot by a white police officer 16 times.
Chicago: How we got here
- DECEMBER 2015: A video of a cop shooting Laquan McDonald released 13 months after the incident, igniting protests. Later, documents revealed police gave an account of the shooting that didn't match the dashcam video.
- JANUARY 2016: New details emerged about a detention facility where some were handcuffed to walls and abused.
- APRIL 2016: A task force accused police of institutional racism. A legal fight is brewing about whether police misconduct records can be destroyed after five years.
- MAY 2016: Documents showed less than 1% saw a lawyer after an arrest.
- And shootings continued at a deadly record pace, leading many to fear the summer ahead.
It has sparked a widespread debate about when an officer is allowed to shoot and what it means for them to fear for their life.
The release marks another chapter in the dark history of police misconduct at the Chicago Police Department (CPD), which was put on full display in a Police Accountability Task Force report. It found “the code of silence is institutionalized and reinforced by CPD rules and policies” and that “the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
The police department is currently under a Department of Justice investigation, and the review is expected to take months.
Emanuel created the city task force in response to public outcry for accountability and transparency following the Laquan McDonald shooting video. Months before releasing its final report, the task force told the mayor that the policy for releasing evidence in officer-involved shootings needed an overhaul.
Friday’s release of these case files is the first major step in complying with that directive. This is an about-face in policy for the city, which has diligently fought in court against the release of many officer-involved shooting videos.
Even on December 9, 2015, when Emanuel vowed transparency in a public press conference, his lawyers, who were just a few blocks away, were fighting against the release of the shooting video of Cedrick Chatman, a black teen who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in January 2013.
On the eve of the judge’s decision, the city said it had decided to stop fighting against the video’s release in the name of transparency – a move that enraged the judge.
Why progress could be limited
To address the slew of systemic issues within the police department, the Police Accountability Task Force report recommended nearly 100 changes. Emanuel has announced the implementation of nearly one-third of those recommendations, including replacing IPRA with an agency that has “more independence.”
Legal defense attorneys, however, say the mayor has yet to address one of the core issues: guaranteeing that those arrested have access to an attorney while in police custody. Less than 1% of those arrested in Chicago saw a lawyer after their arrest, according to police department records CNN obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Since 1989, Chicago’s Cook County has topped every other U.S. county – and state, even – in its number of exonerations due to false confessions, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
Data from the Chicago Law Department, which serves as counsel for the city, reveals that, from 2010 to February 2016, the city paid more than $322 million in judgments, settlement payments and legal fees. The reasons behind those payments include false arrests, illegal searches and seizures, extended detentions, malicious prosecutions, excessive use of force, reverse convictions, constitutional rights violations and failure to provide medical care.
After Friday’s records were released, Dean Angelo, president of the police union, fired back on his website. He expressed his “displeasure” with the 24-hour notice he received, calling it “irresponsible” and that he was concerned for the “privacy” of his member officers.
Angelo also referenced a pending legal battle the union is currently fighting. On the line are police misconduct records dating back to 1967, which could potentially be lost due to a contested agreement that calls for the destruction of records after more than five years (or seven years if it is an alleged excessive force complaint).
But as the city grapples with fixing decades-old problems in an attempt to regain trust, critics of Chicago police say if records are saved and analyzed, it could crack the code that strikes the balance of police accountability, transparency and public safety.
And it could show the Justice Department patterns and practices that need to be reformed.
CNN’s Amanda Wills contributed to this report.