By Mark Guarino
December 1, 2015
CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Tuesday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate potential civil rights violations by the Chicago police, a call that came as controversy continued to swirl around the police response to an officer fatally shooting a 17-year-old last year.
In a letter dated Tuesday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Madigan outlined several cases dating back years in which Chicago police officers killed or injured unarmed citizens.
This list included the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. A dash-cam video of the incident released last week — the same day the officer who fired the fatal shots, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with murder — has led to week-long protests in downtown Chicago. Earlier Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) announced that he had asked Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign following the uproar.
Madigan’s letter also comes as police departments across the country are facing increased scrutiny over how they use deadly force, particularly toward black men and boys.
“The McDonald shooting is shocking, and it highlights serious questions about the historic, systemic use of unlawful and excessive force by Chicago police officers and the lack of accountability for such abuse by CPD,” Madigan (D) wrote.
The Justice Department will review Madigan’s letter, a spokeswoman said Tuesday night.
Madigan quotes data by the Independent Police Review Authority that shows only one out of 400 police shootings since 2007 was classified as unjustified, a finding she suggests shows a structural problem in how complaints are reviewed. The Citizens Police Data Project shows that 97 percent of nearly 30,000 complaints resulted in no disciplinary action for officers involved.
Madigan said trust in local police is “broken, especially in communities of color.” She suggests that an investigation conduced outside Chicago by the justice department’s Civil Rights Division is the only way to lead to “the systemic change that is necessary.”
Among the cases she cites is the March 2012 death of Rekia Boyd, an unarmed black woman shot by Dante Servin, another Chicago officer. Servin lost his job last week and was acquitted by a jury of wrongdoing earlier this year. In the case of Officer Marco Proano, who in December 2013 shot 12 rounds of bullets into a vehicle filled with unarmed teenagers, he remains on the force with no discipline action taken.
On Tuesday, Emanuel announced the formation of a five-member task force to look at similar misconduct issues within the police department. That commission has no legal power and is only tasked with providing recommendations for reform to Emanuel and the city council in late March.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has opened an investigation into McDonald’s shooting death, a probe it describes as “active and ongoing.”
Also on Tuesday, Chicago Urban League Interim President Shari Runner sent a letter to Lynch asking for an investigation by the agency.
“It’s past time to take a deeper look at how racial bias has permeated the Chicago Police Department,” Runner wrote. A federal investigation “can help reform a broken system which is currently unequal and inequitable, ignoring the civil rights of citizens,” she adds.