Eye wtiness settles lawsuit claiming she was told to change her story.
In June of this year, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) filed a report stating employees at a McDonald’s on the south side of Chicago have been witness to “31 violent incidents over six months during the past year, including physical and customers attacking workers over missing French fries.” The complaint also cited numbers from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a worker rights group that tallied 721 news accounts of violence at McDonald’s stores over the last three years, with guns involved 72% of the time.
One such incident involved the fatal shooting of African American teen Laquan McDonald. And, this incident was rather unique to Chicago McDonalds’ violent incidents – McDonald was shot and killed by a police officer.
This month, Alma Benitez, a woman who witnessed the fatal 2014 shooting, settled a subsequent lawsuit she filed against the city. Benitez alleged in the federal lawsuit she filed in 2016 that she was asked by investigators to change her eye-witness account. Attorney Amanda Yarusso said Benitez was “happy to have this chapter reach a resolution.”
Following the shooting, Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to “shine a light on police misconduct.” This came after former Mayor Rahm Emanuel had fought to keep under wraps the dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the teen sixteen times.
The video revealed Van Dyke shot McDonald as he walked away with a small knife and continued to shoot even after the teen fell to the ground. According to the report, McDonald was still breathing but officers failed to call for help or check for a pulse.
The City Council has since unanimously passed an ordinance overruling city laws that required the law department to keep the Inspector General’s office reports confidential, and under the new ordinance, the department is “authorized to release such investigations in cases that involved a death or a possible felony and is of a compelling public interest.”
According to the once-concealed report, Anthony Wojcik, a former Chicago Police Department lieutenant, “improperly disposed of three original general progress reports containing detectives’ handwritten notes of the statements three civilian witnesses made the night of the shooting.” He then “personally recreated the reports before disposing of the original notes.”
The report also revealed that “at least two officers untruthfully claimed they heard Van Dyke tell McDonald to drop a small weapon he was holding, and that the teen repeatedly ignored the officers’ calls to stay down.” The false statements served to “mischaracterize the events leading up to the McDonald shooting, and to thereby bolster a false narrative which might offer justification for the shooting,” it read.
At trial, the video footage proved Van Dyke and his partner, Officer Joseph Walsh, lied when they said McDonald moved toward the officers with a pocket knife and attempted to kill them. Documents obtained during a media investigation also showed high-ranking members of the department stating the shooting was justified after watching the video. At least sixteen officers participated in the cover up. Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months behind bars.