Compliments of The Daily Beast
City of Chicago lawyers, after meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, demanded the Laquan McDonald family bury the video showing the killing of their son by a police officer.
Emanuel said last month that Stephen Patton, Chicago’s corporation counsel, briefed him “towards the end of March” about what the dashboard-camera video showed and about the proposed $5 million settlement with McDonald’s estate. After that briefing, Patton’s second-in-command, Thomas Platt, drafted settlement language to keep the dash-cam video hidden for at least several years, according to emails reviewed by The Daily Beast (PDF).
Michael Robbins, an attorney for the McDonald estate, balked at the demand.
“The provision as drafted, that we maintain the confidentiality, of the materials—principally the dash-cam-video—until the criminal charges are concluded, which could be in effect for years, is entirely unreasonable,” he wrote to Platt on April 6. “Nor was any such broad sweeping confidentiality provision discussed during our meetings.”
“I’ll call you,” Platt wrote Robbins on April 7.
That was the same day that Emanuel was fighting for his political life in a runoff election after he failed to win 50 percent of the primary vote in the February. (Emanuel won with 56 percent against Chuy Garcia.)
Emanuel had maintained since McDonald’s death that he has never seen the dash-cam video, but the emails prove the mayor knew exactly what the footage showed when city lawyers negotiated a deal that would at least delay the video’s release. Attorneys for McDonald’s estate sent Platt screenshots of the video and a detailed description:
“After Laquan immediately spun to the ground, graphic puffs of smoke from ricochet shots establishes that Officer Van Dyke continued to fire his weapon for approximately 16 seconds after Mr. McDonald laid helplessly in the street.”
Emanuel’s lawyers were offering $5 million in hush money to keep this hidden just weeks before the runoff election. And the biggest part of the deal—that McDonald family attorneys agreed to keep the video to themselves until criminal proceedings were concluded—just so happened to be inked the day after Emanuel was re-elected.
The first draft was sent to the McDonald estate’s lawyers by Platt on March 31. The draft said that the estate would only be free to release the video after potential charges were dismissed by a prosecutor or after a criminal trial was over. Emanuel and his underlings at the Law Department would have preferred this, because it meant the video would have been buried under lengthy legal proceedings that could have taken years.
On April 8, one day after Platt’s phone call, the McDonald estate’s attorneys suddenly agreed to keep the dash-cam video hidden. The only thing that changed in the settlement agreement regarding the video was the deletion of a line that said the estate agreed with the city releasing video would harm ongoing criminal investigations.
One week later, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the $5 million settlement in just 36 seconds. Emanuel banged a gavel to mark the approval and the end—or so he thought—of the greatest threat to his mayoralty.