Video Released Of Chicago Police Officer Fatally Shooting Ronald Johnson

Dec 7, 2015
Originally published on December 7, 2015 7:20 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel says the city needs comprehensive solutions in the wake of last year's shooting death of Laquan McDonald. The mayor introduced a new leader for the Independent Police Review Authority, the agency which investigates police-involved shootings. While the mayor originally fought against a Justice Department investigation of Chicago's police department, today, Mayor Emanuel embraced it.

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RAHM EMANUEL: We welcome it, and Chicago, as a city, will be better for it. We accept it, and we need it.

CORNISH: Meantime, the Cook County state's attorney today released a second dash cam video of a fatal shooting by another police officer. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: In a briefing room, there were so many microphones crowding a podium that Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez looked slightly frustrated as she held the paper with her comments in her hand. Next to her was a video screen. That's where she displayed the dash cam video of the fatal shooting by Chicago police of another black man, 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III, as he ran from the police.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We've got shots fired, shots fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Shots fired.

CORLEY: Chicago police officer George Hernandez fired the fatal shots in an incident that occurred in the early morning of October 2014, a little more than a week before a different officer killed Laquan McDonald. The release of the video showing McDonald's shooting sparked days of protest and the firing of Chicago's police superintendent. Officer Jason Van Dyke faces murder charges for McDonald's death. Today, Prosecutor Alvarez declined to press charges against Hernandez.

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ANITA ALVAREZ: Those officers saw that Mr. Johnson was carrying a gun and ordered him to stop and drop the weapon. Mr. Johnson did not comply with the officer's orders and instead ran from the officers while holding the gun.

CORLEY: In the video, prosecutors focused on an image in Johnson's hand, saying that forensic experts determined that it was a weapon. An attorney for Johnson's family, Michael Oppenheimer, held his own press conference to talk about the investigation.

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MICHAEL OPPENHEIMER: This is a joke. It's the blind leading the blind.

CORLEY: Oppenheimer has argued the video did not show a gun and that officer Hernandez did not provide a report about the shooting and has not been interviewed by the Independent Police Review Authority. He calls the investigation a cover up.

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OPPENHEIMER: Why didn't they leave the gun there? Why didn't they have an evidence tech take those pictures to show where they recovered that gun? Ronald Johnson was not only not moving; he was already dead. This is a cover-up from the beginning.

CORLEY: Oppenheimer says there should also be a federal investigation into Johnson's death, and Alvarez says that's exactly why she released the videotape.

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ALVAREZ: I'm not hiding anything. And these videos are going to eventually be released. And so I thought it was appropriate, you know, to be transparent and show you exactly what we looked at, what we considered, what we did before, you know, announcing any decision on this case.

CORLEY: But Alvarez criticized the city's independent police agency for not getting information to her faster. She says she welcomes the federal investigation of the police department, and she's not alone. Flint Taylor, an attorney with the People's Law Office, says, with the help of the Department of Justice, changes may finally come about.

FLINT TAYLOR: I don't think that it's - the community's going to be placated by some superficial changes. So in that sense, I think it's very - you can be very optimistic that some fundamental change may happen.

CORLEY: But Taylor says history also shows that there have been calls for reforms in the police department in the past, and those changes have not come. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.