CHICAGO – In an apparent attempt to get ahead of a new controversy, city attorneys on Wednesday abruptly dropped their opposition to releasing surveillance footage showing a Chicago police officer fatally shooting a 17-year-old carjacking suspect nearly three years ago.
Lawyers for Cedrick Chatman's family have said the videos of his January 2013 shooting contradict statements from police that Chatman had turned and pointed a dark object at police as he ran, prompting Officer Kevin Fry to fire in fear of his life.
City attorneys for months have argued that releasing the footage — which they described as low-quality and incomplete — could inflame the public and jeopardize a fair trial. But in a court filing Wednesday, city lawyers dropped their opposition, citing the ongoing work of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Task Force on Police Accountability, which is expected to issue recommendations on the city's policy of keeping police shooting videos from the public.
The motion comes on the eve of an expected ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman on whether to release the video.
Brian Coffman, the lawyer representing Chatman's family in a wrongful-death lawsuit, called the timing of the move "an obvious attempt by Rahm Emanuel to take the air out of the balloon."
"The mayor's only play at this point is to concede," said Coffman, citing mounting pressure this week from activists and community leaders, some of whom threatened to boycott Emanuel's Martin Luther King Jr. Day brunch on Monday if he refused to change his mind on releasing the video.
Coffman noted that Emanuel's attorneys had argued strenuously against the video's release in a court filing just a few weeks ago. "What has changed since then?" he said.
Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said the city is "working to find the right balance between the public's interest in disclosure and the importance of protecting the integrity of investigations and the judicial process."
"In this case, the city sought a protective order consistent with its decades-long policy," Patton said. "We recognize the policy needs to be updated, and while we await guidance from the [task force], we are working to be as transparent as possible."
The controversy over the release of the Chatman shooting videos erupted just days after police dash-cam video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke went viral, sparking protests and leading to the forced resignations of both police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Scott Ando, who headed the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.