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Chicago Inspector General: Public Doesn’t Know Full Story On Laquan McDonald Shooting

Chicago IG Joseph Ferguson calls on city to release records from his 2016 probe into the police department’s handling of the shooting.

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Joe Ferguson

Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson is calling on the city to release records from his 2016 probe into the police department’s handling of the shooting.

Bill Healy/WBEZ

Chicago Inspector General Joseph Ferguson is calling on city officials to release thousands of pages of records from his 2016 investigation into the police department’s handling of Officer Jason Van Dyke’s shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

Ferguson called his probe “a matter of high public interest and importance” and warned that the public still does not know “the full story” about the shooting’s aftermath.

The investigation was the basis of Ferguson recommendations for the city to fire Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy, Deputy Chief David McNaughton and nine lower-ranking officers. Ferguson also recommended that four officers be suspended.

Ferguson, interviewed Thursday by WBEZ, said important legal barriers prevented releasing the records before Van Dyke’s murder trial and before a separate trial of three officers charged with a cover-up.

“All of those proceedings have concluded,” Ferguson said. “So the reason for anyone to keep (the records) shuttered is largely eviscerated.”

Ferguson said a Chicago municipal code that bars his office from releasing investigation records does not apply to the police department, which possesses the material.

Gag order

Jamie Kalven, the journalist who first reported that McDonald was shot 16 times, has been trying to get CPD to release the IG records.

This week, Kalven requested the release in a letter to police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. The letter characterizes Ferguson’s probe as “the most exhaustive investigation into the operation of the code of silence in the McDonald case.”

Police spokesman Thomas Ahern referred WBEZ questions about Kalven’s request to the city’s Law Department, whose spokesman Bill McCaffrey pointed to a gag order imposed more than three years ago by Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan, who oversaw Van Dyke’s trial.

The gag order bars law enforcement agencies from releasing “any purported extrajudicial statement of either the defendant or witnesses relating to this case.”

Gaughan, through an intermediary in his chambers, said this week that the order remains in effect because Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has said he might challenge Van Dyke’s sentencing, which has been criticized as too lenient by police accountability advocates.

Kalven also criticized the Chicago Tribune, which reported receiving a large quantity of records from Ferguson’s investigation more than two years ago but has not made them available to the public.

Tribune managing editor Peter Kendall, in a written statement Thursday, said his staff has “worked hard to report on the IG’s findings precisely because we believe they should be public and we agree that the report should be released by authorities.”

Kendall said the newspaper has not published the records “because of concerns related to our sources.”

More hidden records

Apart from the inspector general’s investigation, officials have hidden hundreds of other documents related to the shooting.

Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson and Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown’s office have held up release of 132 exhibits from the cover-up trial, which ended Jan. 17 when Stephenson acquitted the three officers. The withheld documents include email messages between police supervisors characterized by prosecutors as co-conspirators.

Gaughan has refused to order the release of more than 100 documents that he sealed or that Brown’s office designated as “restricted.” Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke in January to 81 months in prison for second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

The hidden records from Van Dyke’s case include motions to dismiss his indictment because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct, transcripts of pretrial hearings held behind closed doors, and questions from the jury during its deliberations.

In October, news outlets including WBEZ filed a motion for the release of those documents. At a Jan. 14 hearing on the motion, Gaughan pushed the matter to a March 20 hearing.

When an attorney for WBEZ objected to the length of that delay, Gaughan threatened to find him in contempt of court.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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