CHICAGO –– Hundreds of pages of newly released Chicago police reports from the fatal shooting of a black teenager are most striking for one reason: They are significantly at odds with the dash-cam video that has sparked protests across the city, cost the city’s top officer his job and embroiled Mayor Rahm Emanuel in scandal.

The reports, released by the city late Friday, show that Officer Jason Van Dyke and at least five other officers claim that the 17-year-old Laquan McDonald moved or turned threateningly toward officers, even though the video of the October 2014 shooting shows McDonald walking away, and the scenario sketched out by Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in charging Van Dyke with murder also contends that he was walking away.

At least one officer said McDonald was advancing on the officers in a menacing way and swung his knife at them in an “aggressive, exaggerated manner” before he was shot and killed. Officers claimed, too, that even after McDonald had been shot by Van Dyke, McDonald tried to lift himself off the ground with the knife pointed toward the officers, and though he had been mortally wounded, still presented a threat.


The reports, a collection of handwritten statements from the night of the shooting, and follow-up reports in the days and months after, often refer to Van Dyke as VD and call him the victim. McDonald is O, for offender. Some are in police shorthand.

“VD believed O was attacking w/knife,” said a report of Van Dyke’s account. “Trying to kill VD. In defense of his life, VD backpedaled (and) fired. O fell to ground, continued to move/grasp knife. VD continued firing. O appeared to be attempting to get up, still holding knife. Pointing at VD.”

The statements prompted police supervisors to rule McDonald’s death a justifiable homicide just hours after he had been shot 16 times.

With the video as a backdrop, the reports offer a way to examine what Van Dyke and his colleagues say happened. That video, which prompted the city to pay McDonald’s family $5 million without their filing a wrongful death lawsuit, shows McDonald briskly walking down the middle of the street when Van Dyke fired from the teenager’s left side. In charging Van Dyke with first-degree murder, prosecutors said the officer opened fire six seconds after exiting his squad car, firing 16 rounds at McDonald in about 14 seconds as he was walking away, and was reloading when another officer told him to hold his fire. For 13 of those seconds, McDonald was already lying on the street, prosecutors said.

The video did not show McDonald lunging toward officers as some of them claimed, although there appears to be a silver object in McDonald’s right hand. The autopsy on McDonald found that he had the drug PCP in his system.

The reports hint at how Van Dyke may try to defend his actions. A day after the shooting, Van Dyke recalled a bulletin from the department that warned about knives that also shoot bullets. Included in the reports is a December 2012 bulletin about the knife, attributed to an unnamed “Midwest intelligence organization” that warned officers to “remain cognizant of its threat to personal safety.”


Van Dyke also told an investigator that he was aware of the dangers of spring-loaded knives and was familiar with the so-called 21-foot-rule that suggests a suspect armed with an edged weapon can injure an officer from that distance.

Records show that a federal grand jury subpoenaed the Chicago Police Department for these same reports on Aug. 28.

Bringing charges against the officers for their statements could be difficult, however. Under federal case law, statements the officers were compelled to make as part of the department’s internal investigation cannot be used against them in any criminal prosecution.

The reports say investigators viewed the video and found them consistent with officers’ accounts. The reports also note the 911 call after the shooting and radio transmissions from the scene “were consistent with the statements of the police officers.”

The city has released information – including the video – in dribs and drabs, prolonging the scandal around McDonald’s shooting. It was only after the video’s release, in fact, that Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, saying McCarthy had lost the public trust.

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