As an FBI investigation continues, the fatal police shooting of a knife-wielding black teenager on Wednesday triggered a $5 million city settlement amid word that Laquan McDonald had PCP in his system when a Chicago Police officer shot him 16 times.
The presence of a drug that can make the user exhibit aggressive behavior had no impact on the City Council’s decision to settle the case — even before a lawsuit was filed — and it shouldn’t, said Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), outspoken chairman of the Council’s Budget Committee.
“How would they [police] have known that? They would not have known that. You’re gonna look at them and know what kind of substance they have in them? I could have taken a Bayer aspirin. How would you know it?” Austin said.
“Even though it’s an illegal substance. So what? That particular [drug] could have gotten him to a level of cohesiveness or coherentness. Some people are extremely aggressive. Some could be less aggressive or keep them at a medium.”
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton has promised to release the potentially incendiary video of the shooting at the appropriate time, but not while an “active federal and state criminal investigation” continues.
No matter what the toxicology report says, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that a Chicago Police officer fired 16 shots into McDonald’s body on October 20, 2014 as five other responding officers exercised restraint, Austin said.
“I myself would just like to know: What was going through that officer’s head? What were you thinking? Were you thinking just apprehension? Did you just make a mistake? I just think that was excessive,” Austin said.
The pre-lawsuit payment to the McDonald family is the latest in a string of costly settlements stemming from alleged police wrongdoing.
It all started when a man called 911 to report that a knife-wielding offender had threatened him and was attempting to break into vehicles in an Archer Heights trucking yard at 41st and Kildare.
Two police officers responded to the call and found McDonald about a block away holding a knife in his right hand, Patton said.
When the teenager was ordered to drop the knife, he ignored the demand and kept walking along 40th Street toward Pulaski, away from the officers.
Patton then described how one of the officers followed McDonald on foot, “kind of beside” the teenager, while the other officer followed in a marked squad car and called a dispatcher to request a back-up unit with a Taser.
The slow pursuit continued until McDonald neared Pulaski, potentially endangering civilians. That’s when the officer in the squad car pulled in front of the teenager to block his path. According to Patton, McDonald responded by using the knife to puncture one of the squad car’s front tires and struck the windshield with a knife before continuing through a Burger King parking lot and onto Pulaski.
By that point, two additional squad cars reported to the scene, one equipped with a dashboard camera that recorded the deadly shooting. The squad car with the camera followed behind McDonald.
The other squad car pulled up beside, then in front of the teenager and both officers jumped out with their guns drawn. One of those two officers then opened fire and shot McDonald 16 times, all of it captured on videotape.
The shooting officer contends that McDonald was moving toward him and that he opened fire to protect himself.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have countered that the teenager was continuing to walk away from police at the time of the shooting and that the video supports that version of events. Family attorneys also have contended that McDonald posed no imminent threat because there were no pedestrians or vehicles nearby at the time of the shooting.
“This is kind of a unique case, where we had the original two officers who arrived at the scene, followed Mr. McDonald for some number of blocks and matter of minutes and never saw fit to discharge their weapons. It also applies to [the shooter’s] partner, who was right beside him when they exited the police vehicle, also got out of the police car with guns drawn, but did not shoot,” Patton told the Finance Committee Monday.
Noting that the family initially demanded $16 million, the corporation counsel said, “So, the plaintiffs will contend, if this matter were not resolved, that the unreasonableness of Officer A’s conduct is shown by the restraint that was shown by the other five officers, none of whom discharged their weapons.”
Although McDonald had an “extensive juvenile record,” Patton said he had recently secured a summer job through a church social agency. Just a month before the shooting, he had also enrolled in the Sullivan Alternative School for troubled youth, where his mentor was prepared to testify that McDonald had good grades at the time of his death and was “making progress in turning his life around.”
Patton insisted that it is “not unusual” to settle cases before litigation is filed, But, it “generally happens” in cases involving property damage.
“It is more unusual in police cases, but fully consistent with our policy of assessing cases early and determining whether they’re cases that should be settled and, if we conclude that they are, to try to resolve them before they generate a lot of fees and expenses and become more difficult to resolve,” he said.
The City Council signed off on the $5 million settlement on a day when Mayor Rahm Emanuel formally introduced an ordinance creating a $5.5 million “reparations” fund to compensate victims allegedly tortured by convicted former Area 2 Commander Jon Burge and his co-horts.
The timing may or may not have been coincidental. But it was certainly fortunate politically.