Chicago Police Accused of Falsifying Accounts, Suppressing Witnesses in Laquan McDonald Shooting

AP Photo/Paul Beaty
AP Photo/Paul Beaty
Chicago, IL

As the investigation and the recriminations over Chicago’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting continues to rile the Windy City, witnesses of the shooting are now coming forward to claim that the Chicago Police Department coerced them to change their stories to better conform to the statements of officers on the scene and even threatened those who refused to obey.

According to CNN, three witnesses have come forward to say that, in the hours after a Chicago police officer shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald sixteen times in 2014, they were pressured to alter details of their story to conform to the accounts being given by the officers on the scene.

Further, recently released documents show that it wasn’t just the beat cops trying to wrangle accounts to fit their stories but their immediate commanders making the effort to justify the statements.

Attorney Jeffrey Neslund told CNN that more than just street cops were involved in the coercion. “It’s a lieutenant, a sergeant and detectives–and the lengths they went to justify what simply was not true.”

The attorney also told CNN that he stands by the claims of coercion. “You have a false narrative put out by police,” he insisted, “outright lies to cover up an illegal shooting, corroborated by other officers.”

According to Neslund, a woman who witnessed the shooting told police that she saw Laquan McDonald walking away from cops even as he was shot down, testimony that runs contrary to the CPD’s claim that McDonald was advancing toward officer Van Dyke and acting in a threatening manner. The woman, though, says that not only did officers argue with her about her witness statement, but they followed up in the days that followed and continued to try to force her to change her story.

Even more suspicious, all the witness statements weren’t filed into the official record until a full five months after the shooting and only after lawyers demanded to see the statements. These actions also tend to buttress claims that the city was trying to massage the incident in favor of the administration.

The shooting incident has gone from worse, to even worse, especially for the city and Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

From the first moment that CPD officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene and began firing at the teen, the incident has spun out of control. The officer has since been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting. But that isn’t the only embarrassment for the city.

At first, it didn’t seem like the situation was going to become the controversy it has become. It flew under the public’s radar for almost a year before it broke wide in November of last year after a court forced the city to release the damning police dashcam video of the shooting, footage that seemed to run contrary to the accounts of the officers at the scene that day.

The video was so bad that immediately charges were leveled that Mayor Emanuel quashed the release of the evidence because it would have come out just prior to a contentious re-election campaign that he just might have lost with the extra pressure of the shooting video hanging over his head.

In fact, early in 2015, Emanuel was forced into a runoff election for the first time in the city’s history and that occurred despite his $230 million re-election campaign war chest.

After Emanuel got past his re-election campaign, he may have thought he escaped any trouble from the Laquan McDonald shooting. But it is not to be.

Since the middle of last year, Emanuel has maintained that he was unaware about just how damning the dashcam video was, but now Emanuel administration emails have emerged that seem to tell a different story.

The newly revealed emails seem to show that Emanuel’s office had worked overtime to keep the dashcam video under wraps for at least five years, not just for his re-election as many previously charged. Emanuel’s staff tried to cajole the family of the teen who were engaged in negotiations for a five million dollar settlement with the city to accept a deal that would have mandated that the video stay behind closed doors.

The emails also seemed to show that Emanuel’s office was working other angles to quash the video. At least one member of Emanuel’s team was attempting to coordinate with the purportedly independent agency that is supposed to investigate police conduct.

As each new revelation about the McDonald shooting emerges, calls for Mayor Emanuel to step down grow louder.

On the Monday of Christmas week, for instance, an activist group delivered a petition with over 250,000 signatures calling for Emanuel’s resignation over his actions in the McDonald investigation.

But the mayor is facing calls for his resignation for such disparate groups as Jesse Jackson’s Operation Push, the various groups associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, the Chicago Teachers Union, a large group of local African-American ministers, and the the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League of Chicago.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at