*Weeks after vowing to improve transparency regarding incidents involving police, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration looks to be making good on that with allowing the release of a video showing the 2013 shooting death of Cedrick Chatman, an unarmed black teenager, by a police officer.
USA Today reports the administration’s decision on Wednesday (Jan. 13) came before U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman’s expected ruling Thursday (Jan. 14) on whether to release the Chatman video, which is evidence in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city of Chicago and officer Kevin Fry and his partner, officer Lou Toth.
In his deposition, Fry detailed the incident, saying he shot Chatman after the 17-year-old ran from a stolen vehicle holding what he mistakenly thought was a gun. Although Toth was chasing Chatman, Fry stated that he opened fire after seeing the Chatman turn slightly toward them.
Fry ultimately shot four times, hitting Chatman twice. Instead of a gun, the teen was holding a black iPhone box.
“I was in fear of Officer Toth’s life,” Fry said in his deposition. “I was in fear of my own life. And any pedestrians in the area, I was in fear of their life as well.”
In its effort to keep the Chatman video private, attorneys for the city argued that releasing the video ahead of trial could prejudice jury members. The city’s fight against releasing the video stood in contrast to the vow Emanuel made last month to improve transparency with situations pertaining to law enforcement.
In recent months, the mayor and the Chicago Police Department have been at the center of fierce criticism surrounding the use of force by the city’s police. USA Today notes the outrage hit a fever pitch and resulted in Emanuel’s promise to make police transparent after the court-ordered release of a police dashcam video that captured Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke ended up being charged with first degree murder on the same day that the city released the video of the incident, 400 days after it took place.
In addition to Van Dyke being charged, Emanuel took action to build the public’s trust in the police department as he forced his police superintendent to resign and replaced the head of the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), a city agency known for investigating police shootings.
The impact of the McDonald case was felt in a court filing on Wednesday, when the city suggested the decision in the case set precedent for releasing the Chatman video. Speaking with USA Today, Brian Coffman, co-counsel for Cedrick Chatman’s mother Linda, said he was surprised by the Emanuel administration’s change of heart in releasing the video, in light of the passion from city attorneys to keep the footage private until the end of the trial.
“At this point, he knows he had no other play, if he really wants to stand by his vow to improve transparency,” Coffman said about Emanuel.
According to USA Today, there were five cameras in the area where the incident with Chatman and the officers took place . From the footage, it shows Chatman being shot about seven seconds after he ran from the car.
Commenting on the footage, Coffman mentioned that it shows that Chatman was not a threat to officers, adding that the video shows that Chatman was handcuffed after he was shot. To further add insult to injury, Toth, is shown at one point to have his foot on top of Chatman as he lay bleeding on the ground.
“You see Officer Toth stand on top of his neck, with a foot on top of his neck…like this is my kill,” Coffman told USA Today. “It’s awful.”
Although IPRA investigator Lorenzo Davis found the shooting to be unjustified, a supervisor overruled the former police officer. As a result, the agency cleared Fry of any wrong doing.
Davis was eventually fired by the IRA and has since filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city of Chicago under allegations that he was wrongfully terminated after refusing, under pressure from supervisors, to change his findings from investigations that found him concluding that the officers committed misconduct.