What you missed: Commander acquitted and the role of police video

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There is plenty of news still swirling around the issues of police shootings, allegations of abuse, and how they are investigated, including mayoral apologies and the launching of a federal probe. Even as the fallout from the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke continues, questions mount around other incidents of alleged police abuse in Chicago.

Cook County Circuit Judge Police Commander Glenn Evans was acquitted Monday on charges of aggravated battery over allegations he shoved his service revolver down the throat of a drug suspect.

Many of the cases under scrutiny now involve video. The Sun-Times reviewed three recent cases in which the city paid out millions. In each, the videos appeared to contradict the police accounts; in none of them, unlike McDonald’s shooting, was the officer charged.  Anita Alvarez held a press conference last week, saying that the video does not establish that the officer acted improperly in the shooting death of one suspect, Ronald Johnson. A federal judge will rule next month whether to release the video in the shooting of Cedrick Chapman.

The Tribune reported on a recent jury trial in which Cook County Associate Judge Elizabeth Budzinski threw out a jury’s award of $3.5 million in favor of a family who had sued the officer who shot  Niko Husband, 19. The judge’s action was based on the jury marking, in its jury form, that the officer had a reasonable fear his life was in danger.

Margaret Talbot in this week’s issue of The New Yorker noted the code of silence that has enabled police misconduct in Chicago, and the efforts of lawyers, activists and independent journalists to expose the problem.

While the video surrounding Laquan McDonald — which the department resisted releasing for more than a year — has cost the job of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, DNA Info reported that McCarthy had prepared a report urging more openness and transparency by the police.

The issue of police abuse is hardly confined to Chicago. The FBI last week announced it would greatly expand the data it keeps on police shootings across the country.  In Texas, a grand jury declined last week to indict officers as a result of a fatal San Antonio shooting in which video was released that raised questions about whether the suspect was shot as he raised his hands. Los Angeles County sheriffs fired 33 rounds at a man holding a handgun in suburban Lynwood.

On Monday, The New York Times published an article that focused on the death of an inmate suffering from schizophrenia at Clinton Correctional Facility. The article was only the latest in an examination of prison abuses, an effort that has been conducted jointly with the Marshall Project. 

But not everything that caught our eye last week had to do with law enforcement abuse.

There were the chilling articles and database published by McClatchy’s Washington bureau coming up with a total — more than 33,000 people — who have died after working to help build America’s nuclear arsenal. And there was the article by Leonard Goodman   — a member of the board at Injustice Watch — on the continuing power of the military-industrial complex to influence policy.

Last, we should note our continuing interest in the attention that the movie Spotlight has heightened to the value of investigative reporting. Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who was the editor of the Boston Globe at the time of the movie, expressed in one interview his hope for what the movie might accomplish: “I do hope it sends a signal to the people getting into the field that it’s absolutely critical that we do this kind of work, and that there don’t have to be investigations to the magnitude of this particular one, but that it would be holding powerful individuals and powerful entities accountable — and that someone has to do that, and if we don’t do it, quite honestly, nobody will.”

And separately Margaret Sullivan, public editor of The New York Times, wrote: “The future is in flux. What is certain is that citizens value investigative work. ‘People don’t know of corruption unless it’s disclosed to them,’ said Martin Baron, the Globe’s editor during the church investigation, now editor of The Washington Post.”

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