Despite Lightfoot Vow, City To Withhold Most Records On ‘Cover-up’ For Van Dyke
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration says it will release records “as soon as Thursday” about the city’s investigation of an alleged cover-up for Jason Van Dyke, the officer sent to prison for killing Laquan McDonald, but the release will be much more limited than what she promised during her mayoral campaign.
The City Council on Wednesday approved a Lightfoot-backed ordinance paving the way for releasing records “of a compelling public interest” from some investigations by the city Inspector General’s Office. Before the change, those IG records were generally required to be kept confidential.
The mayor’s office says the ordinance was drafted to allow release of records from the 2016 probe by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office that led him to recommend dismissal of 11 police officers because of their handling of the shooting.
Ferguson this year said the files from his office’s investigation total thousands of pages and he believed all of them should be released because the public still does not know “the full story” about the shooting’s aftermath.
The new ordinance authorizes the city’s corporation counsel “in his sole discretion” to release “reports containing sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”
The records planned for release include Ferguson’s “summary reports of investigation” on each officer but not any supporting documents, Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said Wednesday afternoon.
The ordinance, moreover, seems to allow excluding IG records about top police officials who were investigated by Ferguson’s office but not recommended for discipline. Those include Garry McCarthy, the department’s superintendent at the time, and Eddie Johnson, a deputy chief of patrol who was promoted to superintendent in 2016. Both McCarthy and Johnson were among high-ranking officials who viewed the now-infamous dashcam video of the shooting within weeks of the night Van Dyke opened fire on McDonald.
The planned exclusions from the records release contrast sharply with a Lightfoot statement during her mayoral campaign. In March she told WBEZ it was “absolutely critical” that the IG records on the alleged cover-up for Van Dyke “be fully released in their entirety, including all the attachments and the evidence.”
The Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents rank-and-file Chicago officers has criticized the ordinance but declined to comment on the possibility that the records release will exclude top CPD officials.
Apart from the alleged cover-up for Van Dyke, the ordinance could apply to heater IG cases such as the police department’s failure to bring charges in the 2004 death of David Koschman, a 21-year-old killed by Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Vanecko was charged only after a Sun-Times investigation and the appointment of a special prosecutor. He pleaded guilty in 2014 to involuntary manslaughter. Ferguson’s investigation in that case led him to recommend discipline for six officers.