CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge is expected to decide Thursday whether to allow the release of a video that shows a white Chicago police officer fatally shooting a black suspect in a car theft in 2013, a hearing that comes a day after the city made a surprise about-face and dropped its opposition to making the footage public.
The city could release the video of Cedrick Chatman's death within hours if the judge lifts a protective order, as expected.
Questions about the Chatman video follow the Nov. 24 release of another video that made headlines. That video shows white officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The city fought its release for more than a year, making it public only after a state court ordered it to do so. The video and the delay in releasing it led to protests, calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign and a federal civil-rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.
An officer killed Chatman on Jan. 7, 2013, during a foot chase. Court documents say a high school's security camera recorded police running after the 17-year-old in a South Shore neighborhood during daylight hours and recorded one officer fatally shooting him.
His family had asked that the video be made public as it sued the city over the shooting, arguing it would counter the city's narrative that Chatman posed a danger to police. But city attorneys, until Wednesday, fought to keep it under seal on grounds its release could taint any jury pool should the civil case go to trial.
City attorneys said in a Wednesday filing that the city was dropping its opposition in an effort to be more transparent while it waits for a recently created special task force to review policies regarding the release of videos showing disputed police shootings.
Steve Patton, Emanuel's top legal adviser said in a statement that "we are working to be as transparent as possible."
Chatman family lawyer Brian Coffman said he was pleasantly surprised at the change of heart but that he believes Chicago officials knew U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman was poised to rule against them at Thursday's previously scheduled hearing.
"It is a political move to save face," Coffman said.
Since the family and the city now both agree the video should be made public, it is likely Gettleman will allow it to be released, and the footage could be made public as soon as Thursday.
The primary dispute in the civil case is over whether Chatman turned toward police before he was shot. The city says he did; Chatman family lawyers say he didn't. Investigators later said an object Chatman had in his hand turned out to be a small box.
The camera that caught the incident was at a distance and the footage is of low quality, court filings say. But Chatman family lawyers have said it is clear enough to show the teenager didn't turn.
Andrew Hale, a lawyer for two officers named as defendants in the lawsuit, said in an email Wednesday that the video will show his clients acted properly. Minutes before the shooting, he said, Chatman refused officers' orders and jumped out of a car after grabbing the item that turned out to be the box.
"As he was fleeing, the suspect turned toward the officers, with the dark object in his right hand, causing one officer to open fire," Hale's email said.
The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, cleared the officer who shot Chatman of any wrongdoing. However, court filings allege that the agency cleared the officer only after an investigator who opposed that finding, Lorenzo Davis, was fired. Davis has filed a separate lawsuit about his dismissal. IPRA has declined to comment on Davis' case because the litigation is ongoing.
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(Photo: Cedrick Chatman via Facebook)