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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Chicago Sued for Laquan McDonald Records

CHICAGO (CN) - A Washington, D.C.-based conservative watchdog group claims in court that Chicago is still not being fully transparent about the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Judicial Watch is "a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation" that promotes transparency and accountability in government, politics and the law, according to its website.

The group requested "access to all records of communication of officials within the Office of the Mayor...concerning the police dash camera recordings of the October 20, 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald," according to a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch on Wednesday in Cook County, Ill.

The city has not responded in any way, the group claims.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton told Courthouse News that similar records requests are denied all of the time, but lawsuits are rarely filed. Judicial Watch files lawsuits for FOIA violations regularly and also handles litigation on behalf of journalists, according to Fitton. He said there are "few who actually do this work."

Fitton said officials "were catering to the mob" when they decided to prosecute Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke after the video of the shooting was released, and Judicial Watch is "concerned about the way this was handled."

Either city leaders didn't think Van Dyke did anything wrong or they knew and decided not to do anything about it, Fitton said, and Judicial Watch would like the documents to find out which it was.

Fitton added that police shootings and how they are handled are a matter of national interest, and "people can draw their own conclusions" once all of the information is made public.

Van Dyke pleaded not guilty last month to six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct after he was indicted for the shooting around the same time the city released video of the incident.

Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the police department to make the video public after independent journalist Brandon Smith filed a lawsuit for its denial of his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the recording.

Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times after responding to a call that the 17-year-old was trying to break into cars with a knife. In the video, McDonald is seen walking away from the officers in the street before he falls down from the first shot.

The release of the video Thanksgiving weekend sparked protests in Chicago that lasted through the new year. Gary McCarthy, Chicago's Police Superintendent, stepped down and citizens are calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign as well.

During his arraignment, Van Dyke's attorney, Daniel Herbert, said his client feared for his life at the time of the incident and insists the video does not tell the full story of what happened.

Judicial Watch is suing Emanuel and the Office of the Mayor of the City of Chicago for alleged FOIA violations. It wants a court order requiring the mayor's office to respond to its records request.

The watchdog group is represented by A. Christine Svenson in Chicago and its in-house attorney Paul Orfanedes.

The City of Chicago's legal department has not returned an emailed request for comment.

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