What Chicago Police Said The Night Laquan McDonald Died

Police accounts differ from what witnesses said happened, NBC 5 Investigates finds

On a protest-filled Friday, NBC 5 Investigates returned to the events of the night of Oct. 20, 2014, when Laquan McDonald was shot and killed.

Not long after the shooting, Chicago police officers flooded Pulaski Road where the initial description of what happened was provided by the spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police.

“He wasn’t dropping the knife and he was coming at the officer,” Pat Camden told reporters that night.

After speaking to officers on the scene, Camden described the very first police account of why Officer Jason Van Dyke fired the fatal shots striking LaQuan McDonald.

“He is a very serious threat to the officers and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves,” he said of McDonald.

But that description was contradicted by an eyewitness that night who first noticed McDonald trying to pull up his pants as he ran through the Burger King parking lot with police trailing him.

She asked that NBC 5 Investigates not identify her.

“They didn’t need to shoot him,” the woman said that night. “They didn’t. They basically had him face-to-face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him.”

Hours later a Chicago police department press release stated: “Officers confronted the armed offender who refused … to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers.”

That description, according to attorneys for the McDonald family in a May interview, became the city’s official version of what occurred.

“That statement was the only account of the shooting that I am aware of that was made public,” said attorney Michael Robbins, until “the settlement of the claim was made by Finance Committee.

The April $5 million settlement, which denied “allegations of wrongdoing” by the city, was approved by the full Council, without debate. 

That remained the city’s official version until this week when Jason Van Dyke was charged and the video of his shooting was released.

As for that video, it does not contain audio despite the requirement by a Department Special Order dated August 13, 2010 that states: “Uniformed Department members assigned to vehicles equipped with in-car video systems will activate the system to simultaneously audibly and visually record the entire incident for all enforcement stops.”

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