Chicago Releases Hundreds of Emails in Fatal Police Shooting
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration released thousands of emails Thursday morning that show how the mayor’s top staff, the Chicago Police Department and Independent Police Review Authority handled requests about the Laquan McDonald shooting. Media outlets have been pressing the mayor’s office to release the documents for months.
The emails (viewable below) begin in October 2014, when the black teenager was shot 16 times by white police officer Jason Van Dyke. The emails continue through December 2015. The emails include legal documents, details about McDonald and his family, and repeated denials from the police department to reporters asking for information about McDonald’s case.
The mayor’s press office and police department denied Freedom of Information Act requests and refused to answer emailed questions in the immediate months after the shooting. In messages to reporters and others, CPD officials said “the release of any of these records or evidence related to this pending investigation would create a substantial likelihood of irreparable harm affecting the integrity of the investigation.”
Emanuel has faced heavy criticism for delaying the release of a dashcam video that showed McDonald’s death. He has since said that the city’s policy on releasing dashcam videos should be reviewed. The city ended up releasing the video under court order over a year after the incident occurred. Officer Van Dyke has since been charged with first-degree murder. He recently pleaded not guilty.
The emails shed light onto the inner workings of the mayor’s press office: How they attempt to predict the “path” of next-day stories, and how they divide responsibilities. It also shows that the Chicago Police Department spokesman and mayor’s press office work very closely.
The released emails also suggest Emanuel’s office regularly communicated with the Independent Police Review Authority, which is charged with investigating police shootings. Emails include some sent to and from former IPRA chief Scott Ando, who was ousted in early December 2015.
These emails were apparently transmitted even as officials claimed such communication didn’t happen.
In one email, Ando writes mayoral office city spokesman Adam Colllins: “Adam - I saw you called earlier but I was in a meeting.” Ando says Collins should feel free to call back.
In September WBEZ was investigating a different case of police misconduct and couldn’t get information from IPRA or the mayor’s office. Ando declined to be interviewed by WBEZ. The mayor did not weigh in, either.
Collins had said it would set a dangerous precedent if “politicians were to insert themselves into either the investigative or disciplinary processes.”
The city released the email cache a day after Mayor Emanuel and Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante said they would be revamping the city’s policies on use of lethal force. Emanuel said the city needs to “inject humanity” into the work of the Chicago Police Department. Escalante said the department would double the number of Tasers, making sure every beat car had one by June of 2016. The press conference was the mayor’s first public appearance since a shooting on Saturday, where police killed two people, one accidentally. Thursday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said she asked the FBI for help investigating those deaths.
Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian. The Associated Press contributed to this report.