CHICAGO (CN) — A woman who saw Laquan McDonald get gunned down by a Chicago police officer says in a federal complaint that the city pressured her to change her story.
The night Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old McDonald, Alma Benitez was about 50 yards away at a nearby Burger King restaurant.
Filing suit Monday in U.S. District Court, Benitez says she whipped out her cellphone to “take photos and video … of what she witnessed.”
Missing footage of the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting has long been a controversial theme of the case.
Prosecutors waited over a year to charge Van Dyke — only after a judge had ordered police to release the video captured by a cruiser’s dashboard camera.
The footage shows McDonald walking in the street, away from officers, when he is shot. Though McDonald dropped after the first bullet, Van Dyke fired on the teen another 15 times.
Surveillance video from the Burger King likely captured the shooting as well, but a manager for the restaurant told a grand jury that 85 minutes of video, including video covering the time of the shooting, disappeared after police got their hands on it.
Echoing this story, Benitez says “Chicago police officers demanded [she] surrender her phone at the scene of the shooting.”
Police lacked probable cause to detain her after the 10 p.m. shooting, according to the complaint, but they still took her into custody with other witnesses, holding them until 4 a.m.
The lawsuit accuses police of an active cover-up.
“Plaintiff described to the officers what she saw when she witnessed a Chicago police officer shoot and kill a civilian,” the complaint states.
“Chicago police officers told Plaintiff that her account of what she witnessed was
‘not what really happened,’ or words to that effect.
“Chicago police officers told Plaintiff they had video of the shooting that contradicted her account of what she witnessed.”
Benitez says there was no contradictory video, however, and that they lied.
“Plaintiff’s account of what she had witnessed was consistent with what actually happened,” the complaint states.
“Video of the shooting was consistent with Plaintiff’s statement of what she had witnessed.
“Chicago police officers pressured Plaintiff to retract and/or forget what she witnessed.”
Benitez says other witnesses faced the same treatment.
The police also tried to remove any recording of the shooting on Benitez’s phone, according to the complaint, and wrote false reports about the witness interview.
Benitez chalks it all up to the police department’s “pattern and practice of suppressing, concealing and covering up incidents of police misconduct.”
The Chicago woman wants damages, alleging three counts of unreasonable seizure and municipal liability. She is represented by Lawrence Jackowiak and Amanda Yarusso with the Jackowiak Law Offices.
Chicago’s legal department says it has not yet received the complaint and cannot comment on it.
After McDonald’s shooting, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy was fired. A report from a city task force also found widespread problems with systemic racism and lack of accountability within the police department.
New superintendent Eddie Johnson has recommended firing seven officers who were involved in covering up the circumstances of McDonald’s shooting. Five of these officers already face formal charges.
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