CHICAGO — Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office will investigate the possibility of criminal charges against the Chicago police officer who fatally shot Ronald Johnson more than a year ago, a spokeswoman for Alvarez’s office told CNN this week.
Johnson’s death came eight days before the Laquan McDonald killing and bears several similarities to the October 2014 case, which has spurred protests and political tumult in the Windy City.
Among the similarities: Johnson’s family has long demanded dash cam video of the 25-year-old father of five’s death be released, while the city has moved for an order prohibiting the public release of the footage. The family has viewed the video and they say it proves the officer who shot Johnson acted criminally.
In another parallel to the allegations in the McDonald case, the family claims the video will show Johnson was not posing a threat to the officer and was moving away from the officer when he was shot. The footage will also show that Johnson was not armed, in contrast to police claims, the family says.
“The dash cam video, which I’m not allowed to show you today, clearly shows that he was not carrying a weapon, nor did he ever turn and point anything. The police department planted that gun because there’s no way anything would have stayed in Ronald Johnson’s hand after he was shot,” family attorney Michael Oppenheimer said Dec. 1
If the city doesn’t agree to release the video, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Illinois Edmond Chang is scheduled to decide Dec. 10 whether to compel the city to release it.
Johnson’s mother, Dorothy Holmes, is accusing the police of a cover-up and on Oct. 29, 2014, 17 days after Johnson’s death, she filed a lawsuit against the city and Officer George Hernandez, who Oppenheimer says has remained on desk duty since the shooting. She wants the dash cam video released, she said, because it will clear her son’s name.
“This got to stop. Y’all covering up this murder. It’s been over a year now that my son been murdered and y’all still haven’t did y’all job to convict this cop of murder. Shouldn’t nobody have to go through this pain over their kids,” she told reporters.
According to a preliminary police statement released the same day as the shooting, Johnson was fleeing on foot when he pointed a weapon at pursuing officers, prompting Hernandez to open fire, hitting Johnson in the shoulder and thigh.
Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, reportedly told the Chicago Tribune at the time that a gun belonging to Johnson was recovered at the scene.
Holmes’ lawsuit claims the police department’s and Camden’s statements were misleading or false and paints the remarks as “an attempt to misinform the community regarding the true facts and circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Johnson, in an effort to portray the fatal shooting as ‘justified.’”
Camden did not immediately return CNN’s call seeking a response to the claim in the lawsuit. Chicago police have also not responded to requests for comment.
The city responded to the complaint, however, denying outright the most damning accusations and countering that, in some instances, it doesn’t believe the plaintiff “has fully or accurately set forth the circumstances relating to the shooting of Ronald Johnson III and, therefore, denies, upon information and belief, the allegations set forth.”
It also denies the lawsuit’s accusation that “the entire shooting was captured on a dash cam video of a responding unit.” Perhaps the operative word sparking the city’s denial is “entire,” as it later acknowledges “that dash cam video from squad cars at the scene of the shooting was recovered by the Chicago police and viewed at some point after the shooting.”
Also, while the city concedes Camden told local media that a weapon belonging to Johnson was recovered, the city says it “lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the remaining allegations contained in this paragraph.”
In addition to alleging that Hernandez is guilty of a host of crimes, including excessive force, wrongful death and battery, the lawsuit also accuses him of conspiring with detectives to create a false account of the shooting. Other officers, the suit claims, requested to communicate about the case via cell phone rather than police radio, while photographs of Johnson’s body taken at the scene were “concealed and/or destroyed.”
The city denies these allegations in its response, as well as several pages of allegations accusing the Chicago Police Department of engaging in widespread excessive force, subpar training, inadequate investigations into complaints of police misconduct and maintaining “a de facto policy, practice, and custom of failing to adequately train, supervise, discipline, and control its police officers.”
“The city denies the existence of a ‘code of silence,’ ” its response says.
The Johnson case is receiving renewed attention in the wake of the McDonald shooting, in which a white officer, Jason Van Dyke, emptied a 16-round magazine in 15 seconds as the teenager appeared to veer away from officers. McDonald was armed with a knife and had PCP in his system, but protesters have seized on the police assertion in the early days of the case that Van Dyke killed McDonald in self-defense, which dash cam video does not appear to support.
Demonstrators and McDonald’s family question why it took 13 months for a judge to release the video and why the city paid McDonald’s mother $5 million in April when she hadn’t filed a lawsuit. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder.
The city and its police department have come under extensive scrutiny. As Oppenheimer and Holmes spoke to reporters about the Johnson case Dec. 1, Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a news conference to say he had asked for the resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Emanuel also announced the creation of a task force on law enforcement accountability, while Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she has asked the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the Chicago Police Department to see whether its practices violate the Constitution and federal law. The Justice Department is reviewing Madigan’s request.
Oppenheimer told CNN he merely wants the footage of Johnson’s death released, yet “the city and the police have been blocking us at every step. … All they’ve done is try to keep this quiet.”
Holmes told reporters she is seeking to clear her son’s name. Johnson had four daughters and one son, she said, and those who knew her son — who some friends called “The Dog Man” because of his penchant for bringing home stray canines and nursing them back to health — say he was the type of person to put a smile on your face.
“My son’s supposed to be here,” she said. “He’s not supposed to be over at Mount Hope Cemetery.”
CNN’s Dana Ford, Roxane Garcia, Brooke Baldwin, Bill Kirkos, Sheena Jones, Ashley Fantz and Holly Yan contributed to this report.