Attorney: Chicago officer didn't tamper with dashcam in McDonald shooting
The squad car video of the McDonald shooting contradicted officer accounts that McDonald lunged at them
CHICAGO — A white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times did not tamper with his squad car's dashcam, his attorney said Friday in response to a Chicago news outlet's report this week that the device was intentionally damaged.
DNAinfo Chicago obtained Chicago Police Department maintenance records through a public information request that show the dashboard video and audio recording device in officer Jason Van Dyke's vehicle was damaged and repaired at least twice in the months leading up to the October 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. During the night of the shooting, the system recorded video but did not capture any audio.
Also Friday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office announced expanded police reforms that include enhanced training for police officers and 911 dispatchers on interacting with people in crisis, particularly those with mental illness. The training is in part a response to another fatal police shooting on Dec. 26, in which officers responded to a domestic disturbance.
Police have said 19-year-old Quintonio Legrier was "combative" toward police; a neighbor who wasn't involved in the disturbance, 55-year-old Bettie Jones, was also killed. The city agency that investigates police misconduct said this week that Legrier called 911 three times before he was shot.
The squad car video of the McDonald shooting, which was released in November, contradicted officer accounts that McDonald lunged at them, setting off weeks of protests, accusations of a cover-up and demands for Emanuel's resignation. It also prompted a wide-ranging civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.
"Let me be very clear on this, my client had nothing to do with any tampering of an audio," Van Dyke attorney Dan Herbert told reporters after a preliminary hearing on Van Dyke's charges of first-degree murder. "If this audio was tampered with then it was tampered with by somebody other than Jason Van Dyke."
The maintenance records show that a day after technicians fixed the device's wiring in June, it was intentionally damaged, the DNAinfo report said. It was fixed another time in October, but on the night of the shooting, 12 days later, the system did not record any audio. A review of videos downloaded from the system concluded that personnel failed to sync the microphones, the report said.
Herbert said no individual police officer is assigned to one specific vehicle, suggesting that if the device in the vehicle that Van Dyke used the night of the McDonald shooting had been damaged, another officer could be to blame.
Videos from four other squad cars at the scene also did not have audio. Several experts on the type of equipment commonly installed in police vehicles spoke to The Associated Press in December about the lack of audio and said that it's plausible for a single squad car to have a glitch, but they could not imagine how an entire fleet of cars would lose audio at the same time and place by happenstance.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Friday that he said could not comment on whether Van Dyke tampered with the dashcam in his vehicle because the case is under investigation.
Chicago Police conducted an audit that determined that about 80 percent of the department's cameras did not have functioning audio systems and acknowledged some had been "maliciously" damaged by officers.
The department has taken a number of steps to try to regain the trust of the community. Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante warned officers that they would be disciplined if their dashboard cameras were not in working order or failed to turn on their dashcam microphones.
Guglielmi said Friday that the department now audits dashcams on a daily basis and that "officers and supervisors will be held accountable." Since the closer scrutiny began last month, 20 officers and supervisors have faced discipline ranging from reprimands to a few days' suspension, Guglielmi said, adding that "there is still work to do."
Van Dyke, who is charged with first-degree murder, has pleaded not guilty. His attorney told reporters Friday that the officer and his family have received death threats. He has no formal protection, but the police department is aware of the threats and "taking precautions," Herbert said.
He also said he's still considering making a request for a change of trial venue, because he says it will be "extremely difficult" to seat an impartial jury in Chicago. Other officers at the scene are also under investigation because of apparent discrepancies between what they said happened in their reports and what the video shows happened.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press