“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,” Steve Patton, an adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and head of the city’s law department, said in a statement. “In this case, the city sought a protective order consistent with its decades-long policy. We recognize the policy needs to be updated … we are working to be as transparent as possible.”
A judge is expected to rule on the request as soon as Thursday.
The move comes roughly a month after Emanuel announced the creation of a Task Force on Police Accountability, the system of oversight and training for Chicago’s police force. One of the group’s assignments: reviewing the city’s decades-long policy not to publicly release videos and other evidence relating to alleged police misconduct until investigations surrounding them are finished. The task force is scheduled to present recommendations for any changes by the end of March.
The about-face also comes after the release last November of a dash-cam video showing a white officer firing a barrage of shots — 16, to be precise — and killing black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. At the time of the shooting, official accounts painted a picture of a teenager, armed with a knife he would not drop, shot and killed while approaching or lunging at officers. Only when graphic video footage of the shooting was released last fall did it become clear that the 17-year-old had been veering away from officers, and that one had opened fire on him within seconds of arriving.
More than a year after the fatal shooting of the teenager, prosecutors charged veteran police officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder. The case led to public protests and a federal civil rights investigation of Chicago’s police department, as well as intense pressure on Emanuel to overhaul the city’s police force — or even to resign himself. Van Dyke’s attorney has said the officer feared for his life when he opened fire. Emanuel, however, said the shooting violated “basic moral standards that bind our community together.”
Last month, amid the ongoing uproar, Emanuel fired Chicago police superintendent, Garry F. McCarthy, saying, “He has become an issue, rather than dealing with the issue, and a distraction.”
In the video at issue in Wednesday’s filing, a high school security camera captured police chasing Chatman as he fled in 2013. The central dispute, according to an Associated Press report, is over whether Chatman had something in his hand and turned toward police before he was shot; the city says he did, Chatman family lawyers say he didn’t. The object in Chatman’s hand ultimately turned out to be a small box.