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AP source: Justice Department to investigate Chicago police

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition lead a protest Sunday in Chicago.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition lead a protest Sunday in Chicago.
Don Babwin And Eric Tucker Associated Press

CHICAGO – The U.S. Justice Department is expected to launch a wide-ranging investigation this week into the patterns and practices of the Chicago Police Department after recent protests over a video showing a white Chicago police officer shooting a black teenager 16 times, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The person was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly before it was announced and spoke Sunday to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The civil rights probe would follow others recently in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, and come as the police department and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are under intense scrutiny over their handling of the October 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder Nov. 24, more than a year after the killing and just hours before the release of police dashboard camera footage showing the officer shooting the teenager.

The video shows McDonald veering away from officers on a four-lane street when Van Dyke, seconds after exiting his squad car, opens fire from close range. The officer continues shooting after McDonald crumples to the ground and is barely moving. The video does not include sound, which authorities have not explained.

The Chicago City Council signed off on a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family even before the family filed a lawsuit, and city officials fought in court for months to keep the video from being released publicly. The city’s early efforts to suppress its release coincided with Emanuel’s re-election campaign, when the mayor was seeking African-American votes in a tight race.

Since the release of the video, Emanuel forced police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign and formed a task force to examine the department. But the calls for the mayor to resign – something he said he won’t do – have grown louder from protesters in the city, including more than 200 people who shouted that he step down during a Sunday afternoon march.

Civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson said he was pleased with the decision to investigate Chicago. Jackson said he hoped the investigation would focus not only on the police department, but on Emanuel’s office and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which he and others have criticized for taking so long to bring charges against Van Dyke.

“All three of them – the police, City Hall and the prosecutor’s office – are suspect,” Jackson said. “We cannot trust them.”

Emanuel initially said a federal civil rights investigation of Chicago police tactics would be “misguided.” He later reversed course and said he would welcome the Justice Department’s involvement.

A spokesman for the Police Department referred a request for comment to Adam Collins, a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

“We welcome the engagement of the Department of Justice as we work to restore trust in our police department and improve our system of police accountability,” Collins said.

On Friday, Chicago released hundreds of pages that show police officers reported a very different version of the McDonald encounter than video shows. In the documents, police officers portray McDonald as being far more menacing than he appears in dashcam footage. That further angered activists and protesters, who were already accusing the city of a cover-up.

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