The FBI is investigating the October death of a 17-year-old teenager, Laquan McDonald, at the hands of Chicago police—one of the many police-involved shootings that fly under the radar while others occupy the bulk of the national headlines.
McDonald was carrying a knife and acting bizarrely, ignoring officers’ commands as he walked down a street in Chicago last October. The teen was a ward of the state, in the custody of his uncle. Although city officials said he had “an extensive juvenile record,” he apparently was making an effort to turn things around.
On this night, McDonald would be struck 16 times by an officer’s bullets, an incident recorded by the dashboard camera of one of the squad cars.
McDonald’s death made news again because Chicago’s corporation counsel, Stephen Patton, made a presentation to the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee, recommending the city pay McDonald’s family a settlement of $5 million before the family filed a lawsuit. The committee endorsed the settlement, according to the Chicago Tribune, so it needs to be approved by the full council, which will consider the case tomorrow.
During his presentation, Patton disclosed that the FBI is leading a probe of the shooting. The investigation also involves the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon.
After the council meeting, Patton told reporters that the dashboard camera footage was instrumental in the city’s decision to settle the case before a federal lawsuit was filed. He said the family’s lawyers were initially seeking $16 million.
While the officer—who the city hasn’t identified because of an ongoing agreement with the police officers union to not identify officers unless they are charged—who fired all 16 shots has claimed he feared for his life, saying the teen lunged at him, Patton said lawyers would ask why none of the other five officers on the scene opened fire.
Patton added the lawyers for McDonald’s family contend “very vehemently” that the videotape showed the teen was still walking away from police when the officer pulled the trigger.
Patton told reporters the incident started when a 911 caller said someone was breaking into vehicles in a trucking yard at 41st Street and Kildare Avenue. The caller indicated that the man had a knife and had threatened him with it.
When two police officers came upon McDonald about a block away from the trucking yard with a knife in his right hand, the teen ignored their orders to drop the weapon. Patton said he continued walking down the street while one of the officers followed on foot and another in a marked squad car. The officers requested the dispatcher send an officer to the scene with a Taser because neither of them had one.
Patton said when the police car pulled in front of the teen to stop him from encountering possible passers-by or other civilians, McDonald punctured one of the tires with his knife and struck the windshield with the weapon. He then walked around the squad car and jogged away from the officers through a nearby Burger King parking lot. Two more squad cars showed up, one equipped with a dashboard camera.
Two officers exited vehicles with guns drawn, and one of them opened fire, hitting McDonald 16 times.
According to an autopsy, McDonald was hit in his chest, neck, back, arms and right leg.
Patton said McDonald’s mother had just initiated a petition last May to regain custody of her son and had been having supervised visits with him. The teen got a job last summer with a church and had just enrolled last September in an alternative school for troubled youth. Patton told reporters the boy’s mentor at the school would have testified that McDonald was getting good grades.