The city of Chicago has filed paperwork to keep another fatal police shooting video from being released to the public, saying the video could taint any potential juror pool.
The court filing came two days before Christmas and two weeks after Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s pledge of transparency on police shootings.
The case revolves around a wrongful death suit against two police officers in the January 7, 2013, shooting death of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman.
In the police account of the shooting, Chatman ditched a stolen car and ran from two officers. As the officers pursued on foot, police say, the 5-foot-7, 133-pound Chatman turned toward them. Officer Kevin Fry told investigators he feared for his partner’s life and fired four shots.
Fry said he believed Chatman was armed. It turned out the teen was carrying a black iPhone box, according to police reports.
The original independent police investigator wanted to rule the shooting unjustified, saying the teen fled from the officers without posing a threat or turning toward them. That investigator, Lorenzo Davis, said he was fired when he refused to change his findings to a justified shooting.
A new investigator was assigned and ruled the shooting justified. The officers were not charged and remain on their beats.
Brian Coffman, the lead attorney for Chatman’s mother, Linda Chatman, told CNN that three years have passed and it’s time for the city to correct the record on this case. He says the video shows the teen “wasn’t the aggressor at all.”
“Mr. Chatman is running away from the police. He’s unarmed. No knife, no gun,” Coffman said. “Nothing but an iPhone box was recovered at the scene.”
Coffman said the case represents everything Chicago has endured in recent months: a black teen gunned down by police, a city refusing to release the video, and the possibility police made false statements to justify the shooting.
“You have everything going on in Chicago right now rolled into one case,” Coffman said. “The importance of releasing the video is it helps promote the change in transparency that everybody wants and the mayor has pledged.”
The mayor has said the city should reconsider its previous policy of not releasing videos during investigations. That statement was made after the release of the police shooting video that shows Laquan McDonald getting shot 16 times.
At a hearing in early December, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman said he would rule this Thursday on whether to release the Chatman video.
“I know there’s a lot of public interest in this, and for good reason,” he told the court. “It’s definitely relevant.”
Gettleman had said the video must be made public at some point, so he pondered why not now.
The city filed a motion on December 23 objecting to the video’s release. “Restricting public access to the video until the close of the proceedings strikes the proper balance between the need for public access to information with the need for a fair trial,” wrote Jill Russell, an assistant corporation counsel for the city.
“Defendants are not arguing that this video may never be made public; rather, they merely seek to avoid the release of the video prior to the conclusion of the proceedings to avoid any prejudice of the jury pool.”
The city’s court filing does not say what the video shows in regard to Chatman as a possible threat to the officers.
Steve Patton, the city’s chief attorney, has not responded to CNN’s question about whether the teen turned toward police while he fled, as the officers have stated, or if Chatman was running away from them.
Five cameras captured all or part of the shooting of Chatman: one at a school across the street, two at a food market and two placed atop light poles by police.
The attorneys for Chatman’s mother filed a separate motion, saying the videos “speak for themselves, and a reasonable jury may indisputably conclude” that the teen didn’t turn toward the officers.
Releasing the video would not change that fact, wrote Mark Smolens, a co-counsel for Chatman’s mother.
Smolens said Davis, the fired investigator with the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, was prepared to testify that he “had an opportunity to review the videotapes of the incident at issue. It is further believed that Mr. Davis will testify that based in part upon his review of those videos, that he found and prepared findings that the shooting death of Cedrick Chatman was unjustified.”
The attorney ended his filing by taking the mayor’s office to task: “It is indeed the height of irony that while the counsel for the parties were before this court last December 9 when the plaintiff’s motion was initially presented, the lawyers for the defendants were emphatically arguing against public disclosure of this evidence — all while the chief executive of the city was holding a press conference a few blocks north of the courthouse loudly exclaiming a new era of transparency and accountability.”
Scott Ando, the head of IPRA, which investigates all police-involved shootings, was sacked amid the fallout from the Laquan McDonald case.
Sharon Fairley, the acting chief of IPRA, said last week she has reached out to Davis and would like to meet with him. “I’d like to hear his story,” she told reporters at a news conference.
Beyond the Chatman case, Davis has said he was ordered to change the outcomes of three or four other cases. He has filed a wrongful termination suit against the city.
Davis, a longtime Chicago police officer, told CNN that he hopes to soon meet with the new acting chief of IPRA. “I hope that she does look at the cases herself.”
Davis has previously said the video “shows a shooting that should not have occurred.”
“In my view, if you do not have to kill a person, then why would you?” he said.
Newly released documents from the city show that the case raised the concern of the mayor’s office months ago.
Shortly after the mayor won re-election, Adam Collins, a top aide to the mayor, sent an email to Martin Maloney, who was a police spokesman at the time.
“As I mentioned the other day, we need to gather up our planning stuff for the next few months — both proactively and reactively,” Collins wrote on April 8, two days after Emanuel was re-elected. “What else should we be monitoring in terms of outstanding reactive stories?”
Among the items listed under the heading “CPD — Reactive” is simply “Kevin Fry,” the officer who shot Chatman.
Collins has not responded to a CNN request for comment.
Fry has had 30 complaints lodged against him over the years, including 10 allegations of excessive use of force. The police department found every complaint against Fry to be unwarranted.