On the October night in 2014 that 17-year old LaQuan McDonald was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer, five squad cars were on the scene. But according to attorneys for the McDonald family, the dashboard cameras in just two of the five squad cars recorded the event.
“What was documented is that there were two functional dash cams and in three of the units the dash cam was not functional,” attorney Jeffrey Neslund said in an interview.
Dashboard cameras are staples in police departments around the country, including in Chicago, but the allegation that not all of the cameras were operating the night McDonald was shot and killed raises the question: Are they providing the full picture?
Asked how often in his legal experience the cameras actually work, Neslund replied, “In my experience, I’ve only seen it a handful of times.”
Neslund, along with attorney Michael Robbins, negotiated a $5 million settlement for the McDonald family with the city six months after the shooting.
McDonald was shot 16 times by a single Chicago police officer on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, after police responded to a call of a young man with a knife walking on the city’s West Side. The officer is currently assigned to desk duty.
On the scene that night, a spokesman for the police union said McDonald lunged at the officer who was defending himself. One of the two operating dashboard cameras captured the shooting, but it has not been released publicly. According to Neslund, who has seen the video, it is graphic and disturbing.
“You see LaQuan’s body jerking and graphic smoke coming from his back and torso area,” he said.
A Cook County judge is set to decide on Nov. 19 on a Freedom of Information Act request to release the video.
What is also troubling, Neslund says, is the fact that not all cameras were operational that night.
Special Orders from the Chicago Police Department, dated August 2010, specify that officers are required to:
*Make sure the video system is “working properly…”
*And that officers should submit a ticket if they are “unable to download digitally recorded data.”
But according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request there were no repair orders submitted for the three units on the scene that night in which there was no video.
From September 2014 through the middle of July 2015, according to the documents, we counted over 1,200 repair tickets for dashboard cameras for such things as re-imaging, hardware problems and up-loading.
Since 2011 new police cars have been equipped with dashboard cameras but attorney Brendan Shiller says he too has had cases in which dash cam video should exist, but doesn’t.
“We find it pretty amazing how often the video either didn’t run, or doesn’t exist, or got accidentally destroyed or was inoperable,” he said, adding, “that’s the same for audio as well.”
CPD regulations mandate that officers “activate the system to simultaneously” record audio and video “for all enforcement stops.” But as we previously reported, the two cameras that did operate on the night McDonald was killed did not include audio, according to the family’s attorneys.
The Chicago Police Department declined our requests for an interview regarding how the dash cams work, citing an on-going federal investigation into the McDonald shooting.