The beleaguered Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, already under fire for a delay in charging the officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, announced on Monday that there would be no charges in another fatal police shooting of a black man involving a Chicago Police Department officer.
In October 2014, a week before McDonald’s death, Ronald Johnson III, 25, was shot and killed by Officer George Hernandez, and, as in the McDonald case, a dashboard video existed that had not been made public.
However, unlike Officer James Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder last month, “no criminal charges will be filed” against Hernandez, Alvarez said.
A lawsuit was brought by Johnson’s family seeking the release of the video, which was fought by the city. Last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city would relent, and during the Monday press conference, the video was shown to media.
According to the police account of events, Johnson was in a car with friends on the South Side of the city outside an apartment building where a party was taking place. An unknown gunman shot out the window of the car.
Multiple 911 callers complained of a gunfight occurring on the street, and police officers responded.
Johnson, who is believed to be a member of a gang, resisted arrest and attempted to flee on foot.
Hernandez was riding in the back of an unmarked police vehicle—the sixth to arrive on the scene, according to a representative of the State’s Attorney’s office. The video shows him jumping out of the car with his gun drawn and firing five times at Johnson as he ran from the scene.
According to Alvarez, Johnson was “armed with a handgun and he resisted arrest.” While the video highlighted his arm in order to show a dark shape the police maintain was the pistol they found on his body, the image is indistinct.
Michael Oppenheimer – the attorney who is representing Johnson's mother, Dorothy Holmes – saw the video multiple times before its release and he told the Chicago Tribune: "There was nothing in his hand – not a gun, a cellphone, a bottle of water. Nothing."
According to investigators, Hernandez hit Johnson twice, the fatal shot striking the black man in the shoulder. The newspaper obtained Johnson’s autopsy and reported that the fatal shot hit him in the shoulder and exited through his eye socket.
Speaking to anger among protesters that Johnson was shot as he was running away, Alvarez said, "The fact that Officer Hernandez shot Johnson in the back was just one of many facts that had to be evaluated."
Similar anger over the McDonald shooting, and why it took a year to bring charges against Van Dyke despite the dash-cam video of that shooting, led to the removal of the city’s top cop, Garry McCarthy – who was replaced by a 29-year CPD veteran, John Escalante.
And State’s Attorney Alvarez, now may be facing a stiff struggle in her reelection next year.
The release of the newest video occurred a few hours after the United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters that the Justice Department will investigate the patterns and practices of the CPD.
Lynch said the investigation will focus in particular on use of force and deadly force, including racial, ethnic and other disparities in use of force, and its systems of accountability. It was opened after a preliminary review, she said.
"We understand that the same systems that fail community members also fail conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect," said Lynch, who was joined by Zachary Fardon, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, and Vanita Gupta, the head of Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he was pleased with the decision and added that 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.