Newly released documents reveal that nearly a year ago, attorneys representing the family of LaQuan McDonald accused the city directly of intimidating witnesses in an effort to get them to change their stories.
The lawyers alleged in two separate letters last March, that at least three witnesses to the teenager’s shooting were questioned for hours at a Chicago police station, threatened and ordered to change their accounts to match the versions being told by police.
The attorneys, Jeffrey Neslund and Michael Robbins, made the same allegations in interviews with NBC 5 Investigates’ Carol Marin last May. But the newly released documents show that the lawyers directly confronted the city with the charges, even as a very different version of events was being maintained by Chicago Police.
That official version is bolstered by detective reports obtained by NBC5 Investigates, which show that three different witnesses were taken to Area Central police headquarters to give official statements. One said she was in the parking lot of a nearby Burger King and heard shots but did not see who fired them; another indicated that he was in the restaurant’s drive-thru, and saw McDonald shot after he “ran toward the police vehicle”; and the third stated that he was sitting in a truck at the Burger King, saw McDonald and heard the shots, but did not see the shooter.
“We have confirmed that the narrative summaries contained in the police reports of both police and civilian witnesses are false,” Robbins wrote, in a letter dated March 23. “Civilian witnesses who are alleged to have told the police that they did not see the shooting, have told us they did indeed see the shooting and that it was unnecessary.”
“One witness whom the police reports alleged did not see the shooting, in fact told multiple police officers that he saw the shooting, and it was like an execution,” Robbins said. “Civilian witnesses told us they were held against their will for hours, intensively questioned by detectives, during which they were repeatedly pressured by police to change their statements. When the witnesses refused to do so, the investigating officers simply fabricated civilian accounts in the reports.”
The letters were included in some 3,000 pages of documents, released to NBC5 Investigates in response to a Freedom of Information request.
In an earlier letter, dated March 6, Neslund described the October 2014 shooting of McDonald as a “horrific and shocking event,” which was “witnessed by a number of civilian witnesses.”
“One witness reports having been appalled by what she witnessed, and actually screamed out ‘stop shooting’ as Officer Van Dyke continued to discharge his weapon,” Neslund wrote. “(She) was transported to a police station where she was questioned for over six hours.”
“During the questioning, detectives repeatedly attempted to get her to change her story,” the attorney continued, “telling her that her story did not match the video, which they refused to show her.”
During their interview with NBC5 in May, the lawyers repeated the allegation that the witnesses were encouraged to change their stories.
“Nobody was videotaped, nobody was audiotaped,” Robbins said. “Without question, this is not a legitimate investigation of a fatal shooting. Without question.”
Asked for comment Friday, Chicago Police took note of charges filed against Van Dyke by the Cook County State’s Attorney, a probe by the Independent Police Review Authority, and an ongoing Justice Department investigation.
“CPD is cooperating fully with those independent entities and we eagerly await the results of these investigations,” spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. “However, to safeguard the integrity of the external investigations, we are not able to comment on any case specifics or allegations.”