McDonald Family Attorney, Journalist React to Judge's Ruling on Controversial Police Video

A Cook County judge on Thursday ordered the Chicago Police Department to release the controversial dashboard video of an African-American teenager being shot 16 times by a white police officer.

The video reportedly shows Laquan McDonald, 17, walking away from police officers before being shot multiple times by one officer on Oct. 20, 2014. Earlier this year, the City Council signed off on a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and attorneys for the Chicago Police Department argued that releasing the video would compromise an ongoing investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency charged with investigating police-involved shootings. The U.S. Attorney’s office, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, and FBI are also investigating the shooting.

But Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama disagreed and denied the city’s request to withhold the video as it seeks an appeal. Valderrama said the city must release the video by Nov. 25. Hours after the ruling, the city said it would not appeal.

[City Will Release Laquan McDonald Police Shooting Video]

Emanuel issued the following statement:

"Police officers are entrusted to uphold the law, and to provide safety to our residents. In this case unfortunately, it appears an officer violated that trust at every level. As a result, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority promptly sent this case and the evidence to state and federal prosecutors who have been investigating it for almost a year. In accordance with the judge’s ruling the City will release the video by November 25, which we hope will provide prosecutors time to expeditiously bring their investigation to a conclusion so Chicago can begin to heal."


We talk with Brandon Smith, the freelance journalist who sued the city for the video, and Michael Robbins, who was one of the attorneys representing the McDonald family during settlement talks with the city. Below, some highlights from our discussion.

Laquan McDonaldLaquan McDonald

"It's shocking and it's very disturbing," said Michael Robbins when asked to describe the video. "It graphically shows the shooting in its entirety. The significance of the video is twofold: It shows the shooting is unnecessary, unreasonable, and therefore unlawful–and by that I mean that it has been claimed, it was claimed on the night of the shooting, that Laquan McDonald was approaching an officer, threatening an officer, lunging at an officer, and that the officer had to shoot him in self-defense. That's not what the video shows. When Laquan McDonald was shot, when they started shooting, he was was walking away from the officer on an angle.

"The video shows that he never approached a police officer. He never menaced a police officer," Robbins added. "There's no audio, just video. When it appears that the shooting started, he was in the process of walking away from the officer, the width of a traffic lane, about 45 degrees.

"In addition to showing what happened in this incident, [the video] puts a spotlight on the fact that there was a false narrative that was disseminated the night of the shooting. A spokesman for the Chicago police union, the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] went to the scene and issued a statement, and that was the narrative at that point–saying that Laquan had been shot in self-defense, that he was lunging at a police officer. That was not true, and that was never corrected."

“When Laquan McDonald was shot, when they started shooting, he was was walking away from the officer.”

–Michael Robbins, attorney


"I'm likely going to give it to an activist friend of mine who inspired the request I made," said Brandon Smith when asked what he would do with the video. "His name is William Calloway, he works with a group–a social justice activism group on the South Side. He's in touch with a lot of the families affected by police brutality. He's told me that he's going to disseminate it as he can. He's going to plan a rally around it, I think. But it could be that the police department just puts it out on their website, at which point everyone's going to have equal access immediately."

"They didn't ask and we didn't offer," said Robbins when asked whether the McDonald family has seen the video. "Laquan's mother doesn't want to see the video. She's not interested in having the video out. We've explained to her that we have a copy of the video–we obtained a copy of the video through service of process–but it's not our video; we can't control it. We agreed not to release our copy."

"I believe that the family has a right to not have their son become a poster child for fighting against police brutality," said Smith. "But then there's also this question of, do we as a society have the right or the responsibility to hold accountable the people who police our streets? That's what this is about for me.

"The conversation is primarily informed by data–complaints about police and police discipline databases–but nothing really hits home like a video," Smith added when asked whether the video would promote discussion of aggressive police behavior.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect link to Michael Robbin's professional website. We have corrected the link and regret the error.


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