CHICAGO (CN) - The Chicago Police Department must release a dashboard camera video showing the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white Chicago police officer last year, a Cook County Judge ruled Thursday.
The city has refused to make the video public for months, citing a federal investigation into the shooting.
Speaking before a packed courtroom Thursday afternoon, Associate Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled the video must be made public, but set a deadline on Nov. 25 to afford the city time to appeal the decision, if it wanted to, before the Illinois Appellate Court.
However, in the wake of the ruling Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the video would be released within days, and also publicly condemned the officer's actions.
"Police officers are entrusted to uphold the law, and to provide safety to our residents," Emanuel said.
"In this case, unfortunately, it appears an officer violated that trust at every level," the mayor said.
Laquan McDonald died on Oct. 20, 2014, after allegedly being shot 16 times by Jason Van Dyke, a white officer.
According to media reports, police were called to a neighborhood in Southwest Chicago on the night of the incident to investigate a report of a man with a knife who was said to be trying to break into vehicles.
The police said officers encountered McDonald, and proceeded to follow him as he walked away. At one point, he is said to have pounded on the windshield of a squad car and puncture its front tire.
The Chicago Police Department has said McDonald had PCP in his system at the time of the incident and lunged at officers with a knife he'd been told to drop.
A witness told John Kass of the Chicago Tribune that "he (McDonald) wasn't attacking anybody. He was looking for a way out. He was just trying to turn away. The kid turned away, was dropped at the first shot or two, and the police kept shooting and shooting."
According to a report from the Cook County medical examiner's officers, some of the 16 bullets entered the back of the teen's body.
Van Dyke is on administrative duty pending an investigation by the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago and the Cook County state attorney's office.
Brandon Smith, a freelance journalist, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to compel the release of the video, and Judge Valderrama held that police department could not withhold it citing an ongoing inquiry because other law enforcement agencies were conducting the investigation.
After several delays, Smith filed a lawsuit against the police department in August.
Shortly afterward he told Courthouse News that he wanted to "publicize that they're denying people this video" and "didn't believe it should be kept secret."
That same theme was revisited on Thursday by Smith's attorney, Matthew Topic, of Loevy & Loevy, who told Valderrama, "The public should not be at the mercy of law enforcement to release the video when it suits them."
In April, the Chicago City Council agreed to pay $5 million to McDonald's family despite the fact the criminal investigation wasn't close to being completed.
Attorney Jeffrey Neslund, who along with Michael Robbins, is representing the family, said he's seen the video and that it is disturbing.
"It was described accurately by one of the witnesses as an execution," Neslund said.
At a press conference after the ruling Robbins said while McDonald's mother understands that the video needs to been seen, she did not want to participate in its release. "What mother would want to see the execution of her son over and over?" he asked.
Robbins added that "this is a single incident that has ramifications in many respects," and he thinks the community deserves to know what happened.
For his part, Smith said, "I want to make sure the public has this very clear record of what happened," adding that shootings like the one that killed McDonald are not an isolated incident.
"The purpose of this is reform," Smith said. "If this begins to reform police practices, it's a good thing."
According to the Better Government Association, Chicago police shot 240 people in the 5-year period from 2010-2014, killing 70. To date the has paid $26.7 million to the families of the victims.
Smith said the video was brought to his attention by South Side community activist William Calloway, who learned that multiple media outlets had already been denied access to it.
"Last time I was in a courtroom I saw an officer walk for murder," Calloway told the press after the ruling. "This is the opposite of what I felt that day."
"This is about justice," Calloway said. "This is about transparency. We came together today."
Smith said the police department may release the video on its website, or may send it just to him. If they send it to him directly, he plans to turn it over to Calloway, who works with families that are victims of police violence.
"It's his neighbors," Smith said. "He and his neighbors deserve to have the video."
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