Just when it seemed impossible for Chicago police officers to come off any worse in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, lawyers for the family now assert at least three witnesses were interrogated for hours, threatened and forced to lie about what they saw.
From the very start, the Chicago PD’s response to the October, 2014 shooting was, at best, convoluted, and, at worst, an orchestrated coverup.
The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police, in its initial official account of the shooting, claimed Officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald one time in the chest after the teen lunged at the officers while holding a knife. That account was corroborated by at least five of the officers on the scene.
Subsequent video evidence, released against the city’s best efforts more than a year later, showed that account was a lie: McDonald never lunged at the cops. And an autopsy would later show Van Dyke actually fired 16 shots in all, hitting the teen in his head, neck, torso, back, arms, groin and legs.
Nor was that the only discrepancy in the initial investigation. Other video—captured on a nearby Burger King surveillance camera, which might have shown another vantage point of the events leading up to the shooting—mysteriously disappeared after Chicago PD officers visited the restaurant that same night.
In the end, the dash cam evidence coupled with the autopsy report was enough to overcome the official police account, and in November, Officer Van Dyke was indicted on first-degree murder charges—just a few hours before the inflammatory video was released to the public.
But the McDonald family’s attorneys say there may have been other officers who tried to protect Van Dyke in the initial investigation. According to CNN, which parsed through more than 3,000 pages of recently released documents, McDonald family lawyers say at least three witnesses to the shooting were threatened and forced to lie about what they saw.
The attorneys, Jeffrey Neslund and Michael Robbins, say they came across the latest discrepancy while reviewing witness statements to police as part of their suit against the city. According to the cops, there were five people in the vicinity who may have heard the shots or seen part of the chase, but none who actually witnessed the shooting. Those official witness summaries were signed off on by a Chicago police lieutenant, and according to CNN, only submitted into the record on March 15, 2015, “nine days after the attorneys sought information and nearly five months after the shooting.”
But at least three witnesses reportedly told the attorneys that account was also a lie.
A motorist and his son who witnessed the shooting said a uniformed officer told the man “to get out of there immediately, to drive off or be arrested,” Robbins told CNN.
“This is somebody who is an occurrence witness to a fatal shooting,” Robbins said. “Nobody asked him, ‘What did you see?’”
Another group of witnesses weren’t as lucky—the attorneys say they were interrogated at the station for hours and told they’d have to lie about what they saw in order to go home.
Another witness, a truck driver who was at a nearby Burger King, told the attorneys that he and two other witnesses, a woman and her friend who both saw the shooting, were put in police cars, taken to a station and interviewed for hours in separate rooms.
“He kept describing it and he said the police were visibly angry with him and arguing with him about what happened, saying, ‘That’s not what happened,’” Robbins said. “He’d say, ‘Well, that’s what I saw.’ They said, ‘No, you’re wrong.’”
At one point, the trucker told police he needed to get back to work for a 6 a.m. shift, according to Robbins. “The police said, ‘We don’t give a f—- about your truck. Let’s go through this again,’” Robbins said.
“The truck driver says he did tell police, that it was like an execution,” Robbins tells CNN. “What he described was what we saw in the video.”
“We saw these (summaries) by the three witnesses who were interviewed at the station — that police say they didn’t see anything. We said, ‘Where’s the witness statements?’ We were told there were no witness statements.”
The attorneys apparently declined to give the witness’s information to CNN to fact check, and the cops, perhaps unsurprisingly, have declined to comment on the allegations. The suit, which netted the McDonald family $5 million, was settled in November. But the attorneys say there’s still more at stake.
“It’s not just the officers on the street,” Neslund tells CNN. “It’s a lieutenant, a sergeant and detectives — and the lengths they went to justify what simply was not true.”