City Of Chicago 'Embraces' Transparency By Releasing Shooting Video To Draw Attention Away From Attorney Misconduct

from the treading-sewage dept

The city of Chicago has decided it’s not going to wait for a judge to order it to release video footage depicting another unarmed person being shot by one of its police officers. It has released surveillance video showing Cedric Chatman being killed by Officer Kevin Fry. Fry claimed Chatman was carrying a gun. It turned out to be an iPhone box, allegedly taken from the victim of a carjacking.

At the time of the release, city attorneys had this to say.

“With respect to the release of videos of police incidents, the City of Chicago 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,” Stephen R. Patton, the head of Chicago’s Law Department, said Wednesday as the city announced it would no longer fight to prevent the release. “In this case, the city sought a protective order consistent with its decades-long policy. We recognize the policy needs to be updated, and while we await guidance from the Task Force on Police Accountability, we are working to be as transparent as possible.”

These are certainly the right words to be saying after the Laquan McDonald debacle. The city sat on dashcam footage of the shooting for over a year before a judge forced it out of its hands. The video showed a Chicago cop firing 16 shots at McDonald as he walked away from the officer. Transparency isn’t exactly the Chicago way and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been accused of burying the video to better suit his re-election campaign.

But let’s not applaud the new transparency supposedly on display here. The city’s legal department would likely have kept this video buried as well if it weren’t for extenuating circumstances. And by “extenuating circumstances,” I mean “misconduct that led to the resignation of two city attorneys.”

The video of the Chatman shooting dates back to 2013. SInce that time, the number of lawsuits alleging excessive force or misconduct by Chicago police officers has only increased. One of those is Colyer v. City of Chicago. The plaintiffs alleged that responding Chicago police officers deployed excessive force during their arrest. Midway through the wrongful death lawsuit, the city ambushed the plaintiffs with new evidence that completely undercut their case.

[W]hether Mosqueda and Sierra acted with excessive force depends, in large part, on what [Officer] Mosqueda heard on the police-car radio that night. Not surprisingly, after they sued, Plaintiffs asked for the recording of what Mosqueda claimed to have heard over the radio, as well as any documents related to the recording. A recording was available. But Plaintiffs did not get it. Documents identifying the location of the recording were also available. But Plaintiffs did not get those either. The discovery responses that they did get led them to believe that no recording of the call or documents were available. From that, Plaintiffs reasonably concluded that Mosqueda was lying—that is, he actually had heard nothing, and the officers executed an overly aggressive traffic stop for their own reasons or no reason at all.

Plaintiffs prepared to present that theory at the trial, as well as the theory that the radio call was an excuse concocted after the shooting with the help of other officers, and the trial began with that presentation. But on the fourth day of trial, it was revealed that there was an OEMC record showing the potential availability of a recording of the call the officers heard that night, and soon afterwards, it was revealed that the recording was in fact still available. The actual recording did not mention that the Aurora had a gun or that the car was wanted for a shooting, but it did describe an Aurora similar to the one Pinex was driving. Plaintiffs’ Counsel scrambled to adjust their trial presentation to account for the undisclosed recording, both to defend against it and to use it to support their version, but the jury ultimately found in favor of Mosqueda and Sierra.

The decision points out that this was not an error. The prosecution deliberately withheld the recording it had obtained until the case was already underway. City attorney Jordan Marsh admitted — prior to jury deliberations — that he had misled the court as to when he had first obtained this recording.

Judge, as I am thinking about this issue with the CD and Sergeant Lamperis, I represented to the Court yesterday that it was a couple of days ago that I first learned about the CD. I spoke with Jill Maderak at my office — I remember that I was sitting in my office when I did it — I was going over the event queries, and I have to — I have to believe that was sometime last week, because I don’t think I would be speaking with her after Court. So it may very well — and certainly, I have talked to her and Ms. Dunaj about the CD multiple times, it may have been that I learned about the CD Thursday or Friday of last week. I don’t know. I just wanted to let the Court know that — I may have been mistaken yesterday when it came up that — the first time I heard about it was Tuesday, or I said a couple days before, because I do have that recollection of talking with Jill Maderak in the office. So it may have been prior to trial.

This led directly to the court throwing everything out, awarding the plaintiffs a new trial and compensation for the legal fees — not just for this lawsuit, but for the new trial still to come.

Mistakes do happen in discovery. Most often, the mistakes are innocent and no fault can be fairly assigned to the lawyer. But when a lawyer acts unreasonably and the other side does not get all the evidence to which it is entitled, then a remedy must follow to prevent the lawyer’s negligence from unfairly harming the opponent. Even worse, when a lawyer crosses the line into intentional wrongdoing, then more severe punishment is warranted, because our system of justice depends on the honesty and good faith of lawyers to abide by the rules of discovery. For the reasons detailed below, the Court finds that City Law Department attorney Tom Aumann acted unreasonably during discovery. Worse, based on the record evidence, the Court must conclude that City Law Department attorney Jordan Marsh intentionally concealed the existence of the OEMC record that would have led to the discovery of the Zone 6 Audio before the trial.

Transparency may eventually take hold in Chicago, but it won’t be anytime soon. The city has a habit of burying recordings, even to the point that it keeps them hidden from opposing counsel. The city and local police unions have made efforts to ensure the Chicago PD’s dirty past stays hidden as well. The city is being forced towards transparency, but its efforts in this area are still mostly borne of political expedience — whether in service to Mayor Emanuel’s falling stock or due to the malfeasance of its own counsel.

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Comments on “City Of Chicago 'Embraces' Transparency By Releasing Shooting Video To Draw Attention Away From Attorney Misconduct”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because they were suing the city basing their case on the evidence they had. The evidence the city magically found once they had started that case undermined what was there. The city intentionally hid evidence so they could win the case, denying the plaintiffs evidence that would have substantially altered the case they wanted to present. This last minute discovery poisoned the case and amounted to them putting their thumb on the scales of justice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It says “The prosecution deliberately withheld the recording it had obtained until the case was already underway.”

Isn’t the prosecution the plaintiff?

I think something went wrong with Tim’s statement referencing the prosecution. There is no prosecution here. The two guys in the car are suing (including the one who died) so they are the plaintiffs. The city and the officers involved are the ones being sued, so they are the defendants. It was the attorney for the officers (the defendants) who withheld the recording.

Paul Renault (profile) says:

“…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..”

Ahem, I think what they meant was: “…working to find the right balance between the public’s interest in disclosure and the importance of protecting the reputation of investigations and the judicial process…”

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