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Tribune Chucked From Police Murder Case

CHICAGO (CN) - A judge refused Thursday to bring a new player into the case that exposed footage of Chicago police officers shooting Laquan McDonald to death last year.

Though freelance journalist Brandon Smith brought the case under the Freedom of Information Act back in August, the Chicago Tribune sought to intervene in the case earlier this month.

By that time, the city had already complied with an order by Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama to produce its footage of Officer Jason Van Dyke killing McDonald, unloading a total of 16 bullets into McDonald's body as the 17-year-old lay on the street dying.

The footage led to murder charges against Van Dyke, and protests over Thanksgiving weekend.

In its motion to intervene, the Tribune claimed that Chicago has provided "video from only five of the eight police vehicles that responded to the incident."

"No video has been provided for three of those vehicles, including one that is directly facing Officer Van Dyke during the entirety of the shooting incident," the filing states.

The Tribune also questioned why the released videos include the faint noise of sirens, but no audio of officers talking.

Chicago PD claims that none of its dashboard cameras had working audio, or that the feature was not activated on the night of McDonald's death.

At a hearing on the motion this morning in circuit court, the city called the Tirbune's efforts untimely.

"This case was filed in August, and the Chicago Reader published an article about it that month," Chicago's attorney said. "There's no explanation as to why the Tribune waited so long to intervene."

Valderrama asked what the Tribune is "getting at" by seeking more discovery.

The newspaper's attorney Natalie Spears replied that they "have questions about other dash-cam videos and the issue of civil penalties, determining what type of violations were occurring."

"There were cars on the scene so there should be other videos - maybe destroyed, but not really destroyed - maybe lost in the shuffle," Spears added.

Though Valderrama agreed to let Chicago better explain itself with a written brief, the proceedings then took an unexpected turn.

The city requested 28 days to file, stating that "the Tribune wants things that Smith did not request, like paper documents and additional videos."

Valderrama seemed inclined to grant this, but the Tribune's attorneys objected, noting urgency because of the approaching holidays.

This may have backfired.

"I don't want to speak out of turn, but a dismissal without prejudice could also allow you to address this," Valderrama said.

As Spears spoke about the possibility of amending the Tribune's claim, the city's attorney cut her off.

"That is hypothetical," Chicago's attorney said. "It's not the issue. The Tribune's argument that they have the right to ride Smith's coattails here is simply flawed."

Valderrama assented. "I agree that the petition is inadequate, so it's denied without prejudice," the judge said. "You may refile."

Spears declined after the hearing to give an interview about "anything that happened in court."

As to whether the Tribune would refile, Spears would not say.

Smith had not opposed the Tribune's motion, but his attorney, Matthew Topic of Loevy and Loevy, declined to comment in a telephone conversation shortly after the hearing.

Meanwhile, the fallout from the McDonald case continues.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Police Chief Garry McCarthy last week, after first standing behind the commander, then supported calls for a Justice Department investigation after opposing them.

Since the video's release on Nov. 24, Emanuel has been dodging increasing calls for his own resignation. The city is now subject to a federal investigation as well.

In an opinion piece published by the Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times, Emanuel said he takes "responsibility for what happened."

"And I will fix it," the mayor promised. "Nothing less than complete and total reform of the system and the culture will meet the standards we have to set for ourselves."

Emanuel nevertheless denies that his election had anything to do with the city's withholding of the shooting footage.

With Alderman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia vying for Emanuel's seat, the mayor relied on the support from Chicago's black community in the run-off election.

Emanuel claims he did not see the video until shortly before its release, because it is not his practice to review evidence before prosecutors have finished their investigation - a statement which some have taken to implicitly blame Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez for taking so long to charge Officer Van Dyke with murder.

Alvarez too has rejected calls for her resignation.

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