NBC 5 Chicago / WMAQ-TV won a George Foster Peabody Award for “The LaQuan McDonald Investigation,” the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication announced. The Peabody Awards, the oldest awards in broadcasting, are considered among the most prestigious and selective awards in electronic media.
In announcing the award, the Peabody Awards said of NBC 5 Chicago, “Launching its probe six months before a Chicago police officer was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald, WMAQ’s relentless, unrivaled reporting brought to light a host of police procedural infractions, official disinformation and outright lies, and contributed to a police department shake-up.”
The fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald caused a firestorm of national controversy that prompted the indictment of a Chicago police officer, the firing of the city's top cop, a Department of Justice investigation, a citywide protest and an apology from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose administration has been called into question and resignation demanded by leaders across the country.
NBC 5's Carol Marin first began digging into the case a year ago, weeks before the City Council approved a $5 million settlement for McDonald's family.
Marin was one of the first to report about 86 minutes of missing surveillance video from a nearby Burger King and the first talk to a Burger King district manager who said police deleted the security footage after spending more than three hours in the restaurant. Prosecutors have since said there is no evidence that the video had been tampered with.
Most recently, Marin's reporting helped lead to the release of the full McDonald shooting police report, which she requested seven months ago, and uncover City Hall emails that show Emanuel's administration received and sent emails about the video of the police shooting long before the mayor said he was fully briefed.
This is her story behind the story.
Why did you first decide to cover this story?
We got a tip that something serious had happened and that it conflicted with what the official account was. We’re always interested in that kind of story.
When did you realize this would blow up into a huge investigation?
I think we always knew that this had the potential to be a huge investigation and a national story. Anytime you have a young African American man on camera being shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer as he moves away from – not towards – the officer, there is a series issue. And this nation was already confronting plenty of these kinds of story in Ferguson, Missouri and other places.
What are the central points of controversy?
The central points of controversy were the police account verses the account that you see right before you on the video. The fact that it was happening at a time when there was national unrest and demonstrations, and at a time when there was a contentious mayoral election, automatically everything is raised as a question of whether there was political intent behind it.
Mayor Emanuel says there was not, that it had nothing to do with the election. But the timing, which ended up acquainting the public with the circumstances of this shooting officially only five days after he had he had won a runoff election, still raises the specter that politics did on some level figure into this story.
We got another tip from someone saying that the night of the shooting Chicago police officers went across the street into the Burger King, which has all sorts of surveillance cameras, and wanted the password so they could look at the different videos from those different camera angles. And then the next day, a police agency came in and, what do you know? Eighty-six minutes was missing. So I started calling and fortunately the supervisor at Burger King was willing to talk about this.
Despite the video gap, the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez contends there was no tampering. What is the fallout from the Laquan McDonald shooting?
We don’t know what the fallout ultimately means, because it’s still falling out. We’re learning about more videos, we’re learning about more circumstances of shootings, we’re looking at more police settlements that had gone sort of by the boards unexamined and are now being truly examined. So I don’t think we have an answer yet. The Department of Justice is coming in to investigate the Chicago Police Department, we’re only in the beginning chapters of what feels like a very long book.
LOOK BACK: COMPLETE COVERAGE OF LAQUAN MCDONALD