Justice Department Opens Civil Rights Probe of Chicago Police Department After Teen’s Killing

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A moment before the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 is shown in a still from video released by police on Nov. 24, 2015.

A moment before the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 is shown in a still from video released by police on Nov. 24, 2015.

The U.S. Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether the Chicago Police Department engaged in “a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Monday.

[Original story published at 7:53 a.m. ET]

The Justice Department plans to announce an investigation of the Chicago Police Department, expanding the ongoing civil rights probe of the death of Laquan McDonald, a person familiar with the matter told CNN.

Calls for a federal probe intensified after Chicago police released a video showing McDonald being shot 16 times last year.

The video sparked protests in the city and led to the resignation of the police superintendent.

“Civil Rights Division lawyers are reviewing the many requests for an investigation, which is the department’s standard process, and the attorney general is briefed regularly on the review and expects to make a decision very soon,” the Justice Department said about a possible probe.

The announcement of a pattern-and-practice investigation comes after a police report released over the weekend showed information contradictory to what appeared on the video.

That video shows McDonald, armed with a knife and with PCP in his system, approaching police cars in the street before veering away from officers who had their guns trained on him. None of the eight or more officers on the scene fired their weapons, but within six seconds of exiting his vehicle, Van Dyke began unloading the 16-round magazine in his 9 mm pistol. McDonald was about 10 feet away when he opened fire.

Only two of those shots, one to the lower back and another to the upper leg, were definitively fired while McDonald was still standing, according to a criminal complaint. And though it states that only a single shot to McDonald’s right hand was definitively fired after he hit the asphalt, the complaint also notes that McDonald was on the ground for about 13 of the 14 or 15 seconds that it took Van Dyke to empty his magazine.

In the police report, some officers described McDonald, 17, as aggressively coming at Officer Jason Van Dyke — who is now charged with first-degree murder — while waving the knife and ignoring orders to drop the weapon.

Accounts at odd with video

In accounts at odds with video of the incident, some officers said McDonald fell to the ground after Van Dyke fired his weapon but continued moving and attempting to get up with the knife still in his hand.

One officer said he believed McDonald was attacking the officers and “attempting to kill them” when Van Dyke opened fire.

Van Dyke had been on site less than 30 seconds, and out of his car for six seconds, when he started shooting, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has said.

Van Dyke told investigators that McDonald was “swinging the knife in an aggressive, exaggerated manner” and raising the weapon above his shoulder from about 10 to 15 feet away, according to the reports.

One handwritten report, referring to Van Dyke by his initials and McDonald as the offender, said: “VD believed O (offender) was attacking with knife … trying to kill VD … In defense of his life VD backpedaled + fired … O fell to the ground, continued to move/grasp the knife … VD continued firing. O appeared to be attempting to get up, still holding the knife, pointing at VD.”

In one report, Van Dyke is quoted as saying that from his training he knew that an assailant with a knife posed a deadly threat, possibly hurling the weapon at the officer. Van Dyke also referred to a Chicago Police Department bulletin warning officers of a knife capable of firing a bullet. A copy of the bulletin was included in the report.

The Chicago Police Department said the Independent Police Review Authority is conducting the investigation into McDonald’s killing.

“If the criminal investigation concludes that any officer participated in any wrongdoing, we will take swift action,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.

Video of another police shooting

With aftershocks from the release of the video showing McDonald’s shooting still rumbling through Chicago, a dashcam video of another fatal police shooting is about to be released.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday the city will release video showing the death of Ronald Johnson, 25, more than a year ago, according to CNN affiliate WLS-TV.

There was no indication from city officials on when the video would be made public, but U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang was already scheduled to decide Thursday whether to compel the city to release the dashcam video.

Johnson was shot and killed by Officer George Hernandez in October 2014.

According to a preliminary police statement released the same day as the shooting, Johnson pointed a weapon at pursuing officers, after first attempting to flee on foot.

Johnson’s family does not believe the official account, and his mother has accused the city of a cover-up. She has repeatedly said that the video will prove her son was not posing a threat to officers when he was killed.

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