A Chicago judge ordered the release of a surveillance camera video that captured the death of Cedrick Chatman, a black teenager who was killed by a Chicago police officer in 2013. Controversy followed Chatman’s shooting death at the hands of Officer Kevin Fry. Chatman was 17 yearsold, unarmed, and fleeing the officer when he was shot. Activists are calling for more such evidence of Chicago police shootings.
Police investigator Lorenzo Davis, who had ruled in the aftermath that Fry’s actions were unjustified, was subsequently fired by the police department. He has since said that investigators are compromised by their relationship with the police. Davis is calling for a reform of the investigation into officer-involved shootings and how force is used by police. "I was fired not just for that case but for several cases including officer involved shooting cases and other excessive force cases," Davis said. "But I refused to change my findings in a number of cases. That was simply the last one."
In the surveillance video that recorded the scene, Davis judged that Chatman posed no hazard to Fry. Also on the scene was Officer Lou Toth.
On video, Lorenzo saw a fleeing suspect who posed no danger. “"I pay most attention to Officer Fry. Mr. Chatman is simply trying to get away. He's running as fast as he can away from the officers. Officer (Lou) Toth is right behind him; he's doing the right thing. He's pursuing him. He's trying to capture him, while Officer Fry, on the other hand, has both of his hands on his weapon. He is in a shooter's position. He is looking for a clear shot."
Once Chatman runs past objects obscuring the officer's aim, Fry takes the shot he has positioned himself for, Lorenzo said.
Once Davis was fired, a new investigator ruled that the shooting was justifiable. However, accounts given by police after Chatman’s death differed from Davis’s assessment.
In the video, with officers Fry and Toth in pursuit on foot, police said, Chatman turned toward them. According to Fry’s testimony, "As Mr. Chatman approaches the corner, he makes a slight turn, a subtle turn to the right with his upper body. I see in his right hand a dark gray or black object." Fry said that he fired four rounds to protect Officer Toth who was closing in on Chatman.
Evidence shows that Chatman was unarmed. The object in his hand was a black iPhone box, which had not pointed at either officer, testified Fry. Fry said that he did not have time to say anything to Chatman before opening fire.
Car theft
The video starts with Chatman jumping out of a car that police say was reported as stolen. Chatman runs across the street and goes between two parked cars while Toth chases him. Chatman springs along a sidewalk towards an intersection as Toth follows. Fry is then seen drawing his pistol in the middle of the street in a firing stance while Chatman is still running. The video camera then does a pan and showed the wounded Chatman lying in the street while Toth cuffs him and places his boot on him.
While Fry and Toth were not charged with Chatman’s death, two of Chatman’s associates were charged with first-degree murder. Martel Odom (23) and an Akeem Clarke (22) were approximately, ten blocks away at the time of the incident. Illinois allows for those set in motion a chain of events that results in the death of another individual to be charged with murder. The two later pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Chatman’s family is suing
The Chatman shooting was classified as justifiable, allowing Fry and Toth to return to patrol the streets of Chicago. However, Attorney Brian Coffman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the pair and urged the release of the video. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman, who ordered the video release, said Fry may have imperiled Toth’s life and that Toth was so close to Chatman that "you might say he was in the line of fire."
However, there are no criminal investigations against the officers. Officer Fry is facing increased scrutiny with the video's release. Fry has had 30 complaints lodged against him over the years, including 10 allegations of excessive use of force. The police department found every complaint against him to be unwarranted. In one case in 2007, Fry and a partner shot a 16-year-old black boy in a school after attesting that they had seen a shiny object around his waist and thus feared for their lives. An independent investigation found that the shiny object was but a "shiny belt buckle." That shooting was also found deemed justifiable. But as in similar cases, the city of Chicago settled with the surviving teen and his family for $99,000. There was no admission of guilt as part of the settlement.
Although neither officer was charged in the Chatman case, two men were charged with first-degree murder in the teen's killing: his 23-year-old friend Martel Odom and a 22-year-old neighbor, Akeem Clarke.
Both were about 10 blocks away at the time of the shooting. The law in Illinois allows for anyone who sets in motion a chain of events that results in the death of another individual to be charged with murder.
The two later pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
Videos and outrage
Since November 2015 release of the fatal police shooting video of Laquan McDonald (16), tensions have risen in the Windy City. On the day after Thanksgiving, hundreds of protesters occupied Chicago’s Miracle Mile shopping district in protest while disrupting shoppers. Protesters have focused on embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and have called for him to resign.
The city’s refusal to release the videos of Chatman’s shooting -- as late as December -- brought on new tensions and contradicted Emanuel's pledge of transparency. But on January 13, the city moved to vacate its previous objections.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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