The Chicago mayor’s office, police and the body that investigates police shootings closely coordinated their response in the months after a white officer fatally shot a black teenager in 2014, newly released emails.
The messages released yesterday clearly indicate that advisers to Mayor Rahm Emanuel knew within months that the case could be politically explosive.
Thousands of emails were released in response to open-records requests from The Associated Press and other media regarding 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was killed in October 2014 after being shot 16 times. Few communications from Emanuel’s staff mention him directly though several refer to him by the acronym “MRE.”
A video of the officer shooting McDonald which was not made public until more than a year later, on November 24 led to protests and repeated calls for Emanuel to resign. The officer has been charged with murder and pleaded not guilty this week at his arraignment.
Emanuel has denied ever seeing the video prior to its release, a contention many activists have said they do not believe. The emails do not appear to contradict Emanuel’s claim, though they show how City Hall grew increasingly concerned that the video could pose a major public-relations problem.
In early December 2014, Scott Ando, head of the Independent Police Review Authority publicly touted by the mayor as uniquely independent in its probes of police shootings singled out the case. He sent an email to the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, Janey Rountree, with a link to a website that raised questions about police accounts of the shooting.
Emanuel spokesman Adam Collins sent a flurry of emails about media inquiries into video of the shooting. His subject line on a December 10, 2014, email to fellow Emanuel staffers included the headline in one Chicago newspaper: “If Chicago police have video of teen shooting, let’s see it: advocates.”
The risk that a publicly released video could blow up not just locally but also nationally was made by lawyers from McDonald’s family, who reached out to the city about a settlement in early 2015, just over a month before Emanuel’s re-election.