Citing e-mails between city of Chicago lawyers and Laquan McDonald‘s estate, a new Daily Beast investigation demonstrates the extent to which Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office was involved in the police coverup of a dashcam video of McDonald being shot to death by then-officer Jason Van Dyke.
The Daily Beast reported yesterday, January 6, that e-mails between city lawyers and a McDonald representative, Michael Robbins, show that the city tried to force the McDonald estate to keep the harrowing video confidential as a condition of a proposed $5 milion settlement.
The exchange also indicates that the discussions happened after Stephen Patton, Chicago’s corporation counsel, met with Emanuel to discuss the video and settlement (which Emanuel acknowledged last month). Robbins initially rejected the demand, writing that it was "entirely unreasonable" for the city to require the estate to keep the video and other telling materials confidential until criminal charges were concluded. On April 7, as Emanuel was fighting for re-election in a runoff, Patton’s junior colleague Thomas Platt wrote back to Robbins, "I’ll call you."
The e-mails refute Emanuel’s claim that he did not know what was on the dashcam video and indicate that he, through city lawyers who briefed him, intentionally worked to keep the footage under wraps while he was fighting for reelection:
Emanuel had maintained since McDonald’s death that he has never seen the dash-cam video, but the emails prove the mayor knew exactly what the footage showed when city lawyers negotiated a deal that would at least delay the video’s release. Attorneys for McDonald’s estate sent Platt screenshots of the video and a detailed description:
“After Laquan immediately spun to the ground, graphic puffs of smoke from ricochet shots establishes that Officer Van Dyke continued to fire his weapon for approximately 16 seconds after Mr. McDonald laid helplessly in the street.”
Emanuel’s lawyers were offering $5 million in hush money to keep this hidden just weeks before the runoff election. And the biggest part of the deal—that McDonald family attorneys agreed to keep the video to themselves until criminal proceedings were concluded—just so happened to be inked the day after Emanuel was re-elected.
The e-mails show that the McDonald estate agreed to keep the video secret on April 8, after the phone call between Robbins and Platt.
Besides implicating Emanuel in a cover-up that he has vehemently denied, the e-mails also indicate that the mayor’s office had been influencing the city’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA):
A day after the settlement was approved, Emanuel’s deputy communications director complained to his staff that an IPRA spokesperson did not report to him before speaking to a New York Times reporter.
“I found out a bit ago that IPRA’s PIO talked to Monica [Davey] about the structure of IPRA and how they operate without checking in with me (and despite the fact I had already reached out to coordinate earlier in the day),” Collins wrote on April 15.
The email is important because it shows that Emanuel’s office was not just suppressing information about McDonald’s death, but also controlling how the agency responsible for investigating police killings speaks to the press about its own processes.