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Chicago releases ‘unprecedented’ evidence from nearly 100 investigations into police shootings, use of force

Fairley says she hopes the new policy will "balance the public’s need for timely information about these incidents and the integrity of ongoing investigations." (Video: Reuters)

CHICAGO — Officials here released a huge array of videos and police reports Friday from about 100 open investigations into police shootings and use of force, a sharp reversal in a city still reeling from the impact of long-withheld footage showing an officer fatally shooting a teenager.

As the city’s police department faces intense scrutiny and a looming Justice Department investigation, authorities promising reform and increased transparency said they were releasing the trove to try and restore trust between officers and the community. The agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct in the city posted this material all at once, which experts said was an “unprecedented” move.

The video footage, documents and other evidence released Friday date back as far as five years. Included in these documents are the names of at least a dozen officers who have fatally shot someone and have not previously been identified by the police department. In many cases, police reports are accompanied by blurry recordings — captured by dashboard cameras or cellphones — showing little other than stationary police cars, officers standing amid flashing blue and red lights.

Others showed more graphic encounters. In one video from 2012, a man who police said had assaulted a rider on a bus and violently shaken the bus driver is seen being shot and stunned with a Taser:

Suspect shot after advancing on officer in 2012 Chicago incident (Video: Independent Police Review Authority)

Another case shows a group of officers that same year standing on a sidewalk before suddenly scrambling out of the way as a minivan careens back toward them. Police opened fire on the vehicle, killing one of the people in the car:

Video shows officers firing on fleeing suspects in 2012 Chicago incident (Video: Independent Police Review Authority)

This release on Friday is the latest reverberation to follow the outcry over video of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke firing more than a dozen shots into Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, in 2014. That video, released in November, prompted intense protests over both what was on the recording and the fact that it took more than a year — and a lawsuit — for the city to release it.

The Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the Chicago agency that investigates any time someone dies or is seriously injured by police and also explores allegations of excessive force, posted the information online as part of a new policy, announced after the McDonald video, that officials say will involve releasing such evidence more quickly going forward.

Here are five of the clearest videos in the Chicago police use-of-force release

City officials and transparency advocates praised the decision to make all of the material public Friday, though civilians named in the documents as well as their relatives and attorneys questioned this tactic. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has called this “an important step” in restoring trust between Chicago’s police and residents. Sharon R. Fairley, chief administrator of IPRA, called it “a historic release” Friday.

“It is my hope that this new policy will successfully balance the public’s need for timely information about these incidents and the integrity of ongoing investigations,” Fairley said during a news conference.

Most of the evidence released Friday involved cases where someone fired a gun. While 101 cases in total were listed in the release, some had no records because the person involved was a minor. Many of these cases involved video footage — sometimes dozens and dozens of clips — but most did not capture the actual incident at the heart of the investigation, and instead showed parked police cars or officers waiting at a scene for first responders.

Cellphone video shows cop slamming woman in 2014 Chicago incident (Video: Independent Police Review Authority)

In one video, a man identified in the arrest report as Zainul Hussain, who police said they shot after he refused orders in July 2015 to stop hitting someone with a baseball bat, is seen kneeling on the pavement, apparently wounded, before eventually lying down. Minutes pass before he receives medical attention.

Another video was released without any accompanying reports or explanation: A man is seen inside a police facility speaking with an officer. The two men exchange words and then the officer quickly lunges for the man’s throat, before eventually forcing him to the ground. This clip has no audio and no report, so there is no indication what was said.

“The release and availability of this evidence illustrates the challenges our officers face every day when they put their lives on the line to protect the city of Chicago,” Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, said in a statement Friday. “I have often said that CPD is only as effective as the faith and trust the community has in it and I believe that this will go a long way in promoting transparency.”

Why Chicago switched gears and decided to quickly release videos of police shootings

In Chicago, police and city officials are still feeling the aftereffects of the McDonald video, which was widely circulated online and played on a loop on cable news. On the same day the video came out in November 2015, the officer who shot McDonald was charged with murder. Heated demonstrations quickly followed, and in subsequent weeks, Emanuel ousted his police superintendent and formed a task force aimed at recommending police reforms.

The Justice Department also launched an investigation into the police department, the country’s second-biggest local law enforcement agency. More recently, the prosecutor in the case was denied a third term earlier this year, and last month she withdrew from the case against Van Dyke and asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor to replace her.

All the while, even as Emanuel’s task force released a report that lambasted the police and a new superintendent took over the force, the city has also been confronting skyrocketing bloodshed. Killings and shootings are both significantly up over 2015, when the city had more homicides than any other in the country; while these numbers are far lower than they were in the 1990s, they are still are approaching levels unseen for years.

Chicago’s staggering rise in gun violence and killings

The task force said the McDonald shooting and video were a tipping point that “gave voice to long-simmering anger” in the community. City officials had previously argued — as they did in the McDonald case — against releasing videos during ongoing investigations. While arguing against releasing the McDonald video shortly before it was made public, Emanuel said, “you never would release a video while that investigation is going on.”

Earlier this year, Emanuel’s task force recommended speeding up the release of videos and other evidence from shootings and deaths in custody, saying that the city had to move away from its practice of withholding evidence until investigations are concluded. The task force argued that residents had “an undeniable” interest in being informed about “about how their police force conducts its business, especially the death of, or great bodily harm to, a civilian.”

Emanuel readily agreed to impose the new guidelines, which recommend releasing recordings and reports within two to three months, and said IPRA would also follow these guidelines for investigations open before it was announced. (He has also said the city will replace IPRA with a new civilian agency, something that was recommended in his task force’s report.)

“While I am pleased that Chicago is taking this important next step in our effort to be more transparent on these issues, we know there is a lot more work to do,” Emanuel said in a statement Friday. “This new policy is one piece of a much larger effort to restore trust and repair relationships between law enforcement and our communities.

This simultaneous release appears “unprecedented,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. He said he could not recall another instance of a city sudden;y making so much information public like this before.

“This is a sign of the times,” Wexler said in a telephone interview. “This is what a city feels it needs to do to help restore its credibility. And it says a lot about the importance of transparency.”

After a blistering report, what’s next for the Chicago police?

Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who helped get the McDonald video released, said it was also unprecedented because “Chicago’s secrecy and denial for so long is also unprecedented.”

“I’m impressed,” he said. “I think this is a real step toward transparency.”

Flint Taylor, attorney who has represented dozens of clients suing police for excessive force over four decades, called the release “an attempt to be transparent.”

“Whenever we get any transparency with regard to police, that’s a good thing,” he said. “But it’s very limited. We’re dealing here with an entrenched culture of racism and violence. Releasing videos is not going to change the culture of the department. The report that came out a few months ago was hard-hitting, it identified the problems in the department. But are there going to be fundamental changes that affect the culture? History in Chicago teaches us to be skeptical that it will happen.”

Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, was critical of the decision to release the videos and documents while the investigations are ongoing.

“The investigations are pending,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “If they are pending, why are you releasing information on active investigations? To me, you would release the information to justify the results, whether its discipline or exoneration. But you complete the investigation before you put it out there.”

Angelo also said the footage released Friday is incomplete, offering only snippets of encounters, rather than showing everything that preceded and followed what was recorded.

“If you want to show a movie, don’t come in halfway,” Angelo said. “Don’t come in at the end. Watch the whole movie.”

Cellphone video shows off-duty officer punching restaurant patron in 2015 Chicago incident (Video: Independent Police Review Authority)

In one video released Friday, 60-year-old Terrence G. Clarke, a Canadian tourist who was in town for a 2015 Chicago Blackhawks game, is seen being punched in the face after resisting arrest by an off-duty officer.

According to the police report, Clarke threw a cup of cheese at the off-duty officer, who working security at Portillos Restaurant, a hot dog spot, after being told that the restaurant was closing. Security camera footage of the moments before the incident shows the two mean speaking to each other, and the off-duty officer removing some of Clarke’s food from in front of him.

Khaled Shaar, the off-duty officer, told Chicago police investigators that Clarke declared “Do whatever the [expletive] you have to do, I’m not leaving.” A struggle ensued as Shaar attempted to handcuff Clarke, prompting others in the restaurant – including Clarke’s son – to attempt to intervene.

That statement by Clarke cannot be heard in any of the videos released Friday, but the man can be heard saying “give me my money back.” In bystander video released on Friday, Clarke can be heard telling the officer to “get away from me” and shoving him, before Shaar begins throwing hay-maker punches. The incident is still under investigation. Clarke was charged with aggravated battery of a police officer.

In some cases, the videos and reports released by IPRA highlighted cases that prosecutors have reviewed and decided against criminal charges before releasing video footage later included in the release Friday. This was the case when a Chicago officer shot and killed Ronald Johnson III in October 2014. Dashboard camera footage from that incident — showing Johnson running out of frame right before the officer is seen firing his gun — was made public last December when prosecutors said there would be no charges.

This same footage was included among more than two dozen audio and video clips from the investigation into Johnson’s shooting, some of which depict only the aftermath: one clip lasting nearly 30 minutes, showing showing officers gathered behind police tape, another lasting 20 minutes and showing the flashing lights on police cars from a different angle.

Still, some people who are depicted in the videos — as well as their relatives and attorneys — were unhappy with the release Friday.

“It’s a bunch of garbage,” said Dorothy Holmes, Ronald Johnson’s mother. “Why, all of the sudden, two years after my son is dead they want to release all these other videos? Why did it take them so long to release all this information?

“These videos have been there,” she said. “Some of these videos are years and years old. They hid those videos. Once the person was killed, the family should have been notified to see them.”

Cellphone video shows police firing on fleeing suspect in 2014 Chicago incident (Video: Independent Police Review Authority)

Luster Woodall — whose son, 25-year-old Terrance Gilbert, was fatally shot on Christmas Day 2014 by a police officer who said Gilbert tried to stab him with a knife — said he was not told documents relating to his son would be released. (A spokeswoman for IPRA says the agency did try to notify Gilbert’s relatives, sending a letter to an address they had for his family. The spokeswoman also said they could not find a phone number for a next-of-kin or information regarding an attorney for Gilbert’s relatives.) A woman who appeared in the evidence released — Jermeka Neil, 36 — said she was not aware she would be included in the documents released.

“This way they are hoping to lessen the impact of these videos by dumping them all at one time,” said Jeffrey Granich, who represents Gilbert’s family in a lawsuit against the city. “If they release them at one time, we look at each case. If they dump 200 videos, no one is going to pay attention to each and every case and that is their purpose.”

In recent years, a series of high-profile incidents — in Chicago, Cleveland, Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., among other cities — have prompted an intense debate over how police use force, particularly against black men and boys. Activists have called for more body cameras and dash-cameras, pointing to the pivotal role video footage can play in some cases, though some states have also sought to limit how much footage can be released, citing privacy concerns.

The release Friday in offers a sprawling look into details about individual cases and allegations, providing a glimpse into a universe of information previously withheld from the public. Policies in other cities vary; police in Seattle have a dedicated YouTube channel for body camera footage, which redacts some faces and voices.

The task force’s report — which Angelo has criticized as biased — said it had found cases of people being “verbally and physically abused,” stopped without cause and detained without counsel “over and over again.”

As part of the ongoing Justice Department investigation, federal authorities are looking at how the department deals with allegations of misconduct, and that “pattern or practice” probe will also review specific documents and incidents before releasing its findings.

Berman reported from Washington. William Wan, Wesley Lowery and Gillian Brockell in Washington contributed to this report.

Further reading:

Chicago weighs future of an officer with a long history of excessive force complaints

Chicago residents think kids growing up there are as likely to be violent-crime victims as college graduates

Ousted Chicago police chief says he was booted because ‘somebody had to take the hit’

Chicago will make some changes to its police department as a ‘down payment’ on reform

This story has been updated and will be updated again. First published: 9:36 a.m.