PI Original Ellyn Fortino Monday December 7th, 2015, 6:32pm

Emanuel On Federal CPD Probe: 'We Accept It, And We Need It'

Mayor Rahm Emanuel reacted to news on Monday of the federal probe launched into the Chicago Police Department as well as the latest developments in the Ronald Johnson police shooting case. 

At a wide-reaching press conference on law enforcement in the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the federal civil rights investigation into the Chicago Police Department is welcome and officials will cooperate with the probe.

U.S. Justice Department officials announced the investigation Monday morning, amid furor over the October 2014 fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The teen was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged last month with first-degree murder just hours before the court-ordered release of police dash-cam video showing the fatal shooting.

"We welcome it, and Chicago as a city will be better for it," the mayor said during a Monday afternoon press conference. "We accept it, and we need it."

After the release of the McDonald shooting video, many community members and elected officials, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), called for a Justice Department probe into the CPD's practices.

"It's in our long-term interest," Emanuel added of the federal civil rights investigation. "The city needs answers to what happened in the case of Laquan McDonald's tragic and horrible death. But this is bigger than one particular incident. We need comprehensive solutions to address the systematic challenges that exist in the Chicago Police Department."

Emanuel said he will implement recommendations from the federal probe and act on reforms outlined by his new police accountability task force, which was announced last week.

"You have my commitment and every fiber of my body to not only work with the Justice Department in the sense of cooperating, but then use all my energy to bring that level of reform and change," the mayor said.

Joining Emanuel at his press conference was John Escalante, CPD's acting superintendent, and the Independent Police Review Authority's (IPRA) new chief administrator Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor. The mayor appointed Fairley to the post after Scott Ando resigned as IPRA's leader Sunday evening.

"This is a time and a place for new energy, new leadership and a reinvigorated entity that has oversight to the actions of individual officers in the police department," Emanuel said.

Fairley worked as first deputy and general counsel of the city's inspector general's office and is a former assistant U.S. attorney.

"I promise you I bring no agenda other than the pursuit of integrity and transparency in the work that IPRA does," Fairley said. "This is what our Chicago police brethren deserve and what the city of Chicago citizens demand."

For his part, Escalante was asked about the misstatements made by officers, including Van Dyke, in police reports on the McDonald case.

"There was no attempt to alter his (Van Dyke's) statements. That's what he said," Escalante said. "That is why when the video showed that his statements did not match the video, he was charged with murder. There was no attempt to try to get his statements to match the evidence."

After seeing the McDonald shooting video, former police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who was fired last week, "did the most he was able to do" at the time by assigning Van Dyke to paid desk duty, Escalante noted.

Emanuel added that his police accountability task force plans to look into questions surrounding police culture in the city.

He noted that CPD internal affairs, IPRA and the police board are "all supposed to be doing something" in terms of police accountability, "and it's not happening."

"The fact that you have three entities, and if people are not telling the truth, that they ... believe there is a permissive culture that enables that, rather than hold them accountable, we have a problem because people don't trust it," Emanuel said.

Emanuel's press conference was held hours after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez announced that no criminal charges will be filed against George Hernandez, the Chicago police officer involved in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ronald Johnson.

Emanuel said he viewed the dash-cam video of Johnson's shooting today.

"Obviously, it's sad every time there's a loss of life," he said. "But as you know, while her work in the state's attorney('s office) ends, IPRA's work as it relates to disciplinary action and in their investigatory work begins today, which is why it's also essential that you have new leadership at that office."

Asked for his thoughts on Alvarez's decision against bringing criminal charges against Hernandez in Johnson's death, Emanuel said that she "walked through the entire case why she made her decision. That doesn't mean we're absolved, and that's why IPRA now has to start their investigation from the disciplinary action of the officers."

Alvarez announced Hernandez will not face criminal charges in Johnson's death nearly two weeks after she charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in the McDonald case. 

Alvarez's delay in charing Van Dyke as well as the city's original refusal to release the McDonald dash-cam video has led to calls for Alvarez and Emanuel to step down. Both officials have said they have no plans to resign. 

Last week, Alvarez stated that she does "not apologize for conducting a meticulous and thorough investigation to build the strongest possible first-degree murder case against Officer Van Dyke."

The group Action Now is among those calling for Alvarez's resignation. Upon news that Hernandez will not face criminal charges in Johnson's death, Action Now's Executive Director Katelyn Johnson issued a statement, which said in part:

Alvarez tried to use the police dashboard camera footage as evidence that police acted within accordance to the law. The video clearly shows Ronald Johnson running away from police officers while Officer George Hernandez fires five shots at him with the fatal one hitting Johnson in the back. The video contradicts the initial police reports of last year's shooting that said Johnson was turning around to fire the alleged weapon. How many more videos do we have to see until we realize that Alvarez has more than skeletons in her political closet. She has entire graveyards.

We are deeply saddened by the death of a young black man who the people we elect and officers sworn to serve and protect the public failed. Elected officials have failed black neighborhoods for decades through disinvestment, closing schools, and cutting funding to much need public programs. The police department have failed black neighborhoods by viewing young black men and women as threats instead of lives worth protecting.

Alvarez and her office botched the trial against Dante Servin after he murdered Rekia Boyd. She allowed Jason Van Dyke to remain a police officer after he murdered Laquan McDonald. Today, she condoned the shooting and murder of Ronald Johnson.

Last week, Action Now and partner organizations delivered over 35,000 petition signatures to the State's Attorney's office calling on Alvarez to resign. We stand by that demand, and encourage others to make sure that this is her last term in office.

Meanwhile, aldermen with the Progress Reform Caucus are among those who expressed support today for the Justice Department's investigation of the CPD.

"It is abhorrent and tragic that it took a judge to force the administration to release video capturing the killing of a young African-American man at the hands of a police officer to initiate the Department of Justice's investigation," Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said in a statement. "We are relieved to see the Department of Justice undertake this investigation. We must find a way to build trust between the people of Chicago and its law enforcement agencies."

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