As the March 15 primary election nears, the controversy surrounding the 2014 police shooting death of Laquan McDonald refuses to let up. On Tuesday, just a week before the primary election, lawsuits were filed against the Chicago Police Department, the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), and the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who is facing a tough re-election bid, for more information on the case.
Specifically, the suit is calling on the police department, IPRA and Alvarez to release their respective records on the McDonald investigation. The lawsuit was filed by independent journalist Brandon Smith, who — with the help of the Invisible Institute’s Jamie Kalven — pressed for what was the eventual public release of the police dash-cam video of the McDonald shooting.
Smith says the timing of the lawsuit serves a dual purpose in light of the upcoming election.
“I think that the people of Chicago are wondering about why it took so long for Alvarez’s office to investigate this and there is no better time than now when she’s up for re-election to find out for people,” Smith told Progress Illinois. “Yes, she said she was investigating the whole time, but people who know law enforcement investigations say that your key work is done in the first few days or couple of weeks after the event happened and then the trail goes cold.
“So 13 months later, I’m just skeptical, as I think many people in Chicago are, of what she could have been doing 13 months out. So we’re trying to figure that out before the election so that people are informed going into that election.”
Garry McCarthy lost his job as CPD’s police chief due to the public outcry following the release of the McDonald dash-cam video. The Chicago Police Board was tasked with providing Mayor Rahm Emanuel with a list of three recommended candidates for the job by the end of February. But the board missed their deadline, citing the need for more time. Lori Lightfoot, the board’s president, said the recommendations will be made “as soon as possible.”
The ongoing search for a CPD superintendent could be impacted by Tuesday’s lawsuit, according to Smith, as it may incite city and law enforcement leaders to be more mindful of the rally cry for a proper police steward.
“I don’t really see a more powerful way to demand that the city find someone for that office that is worthy of the people’s trust than to make sure that the past grievances are brought to light,” Smith said of the search for a new CPD superintendent.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been at the epicenter of the Laquan McDonald case, considering the city was forced to release the video by a judge after the city refused multiple media requests for the dash-cam video. A lawsuit by Smith, with the help of the Loevy & Loevy civil rights law firm, led to that judgement back in November. Members of the public, and the media, have the legal right to submit FOIA requests to government agencies in order to gain access to information that has not been made public. The latest lawsuit is yet another push for FOIA requests to be honored in the manner in which they were designed by law, according to Matt Topic of Lovey & Loevy Attorneys At Law.
Smith hopes that the latest lawsuit will send a message to public officials about the way in which FOIA requests should be handled, regardless of who makes the inquiry.
“Journalists and the public at large have been dissuaded from filing FOIA requests or just questioning the government in general because they’ve heard these horror stories of the city denying so many things … They deny based on very broad interpretations of the exemptions, and the exemptions should be treated very narrowly. So, it’s my hope that myself — and many others who have been on the FOIA trail, if you will — that we paint a picture that shows this can work; and to ultimately make sure that it works for everyone the way it was intended.”
Image: AP Photo/Teresa Crawford