Video released of deadly Chicago police shooting of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman in 2013
CHICAGO — Newly released videos of a 2013 fatal police shooting show a teen running away from two police officers when he is shot and killed in broad daylight in a South Side Chicago neighborhood.
Cedrick Chatman, 17, was shot on January 7, 2013, by Officer Kevin Fry. The city of Chicago opposed release of the videos for more than three years.
They show Chatman jumping out of a car that was reported stolen, running across the street and squeezing between two parked cars as Fry’s partner, Officer Lou Toth, gives chase. Chatman then hits an all-out sprint along the sidewalk toward an intersection. Toth sprints behind him.
Fry draws his Sig Sauer .45-caliber handgun in the middle of the street, plants his feet near the intersection and opens fire as Chatman appears to still be running away. A wounded, unarmed Chatman lies in the street as Toth handcuffs him and places his right boot on top of him. The whole event takes about 10 seconds.
Fry told investigators he feared for his partner’s life and fired four shots, saying Chatman made a slight turn toward him and had an object in his hand that he believed to be a gun.
It turned out the object was a black iPhone box.
In ordering the videos’ release on Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Gettleman indicated Fry might have put his partner’s life in danger, saying Toth was running so close to the teen when shots rang out “you might say he was in the line of fire.”
The videos also show two bystanders on the sidewalk near the intersection, just steps away when gunshots ring out and Chatman crumples to the ground. The two then sprint away from the direction of the gunfire.
Release of the video stirred outrage in a city that already has been roiled by controversy since the November release of the fatal police shooting video of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times.
Attorneys for Chatman’s mother, Linda Chatman, had filed a wrongful death suit against both officers and urged the videos’ public release as part of that case.
Five cameras captured all or part of the shooting of Chatman: one at a school across the street, two at a food market and two placed atop light poles by police.
Brian Coffman, the lead attorney for Chatman’s mother, told reporters after Thursday’s hearing that his team was “very happy” about the judge’s decision. He said the teen’s mother has no plans to watch the video, but she “wants the public at large to see what happens to Cedrick Chatman that day.”
Coffman said he was disgusted when he saw the video of the officer putting his foot on top of the slain teen, as if he were a “trophy kill.”
A community responds
Activists have asked why it took three years to release the video and why an independent police investigator says he was fired when he initially sought to rule the shooting unjustified. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue charges against the officers at the time.
Community activist William Calloway criticized Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday for not being more forthcoming and called on black officials and clergy to boycott the mayor’s breakfast Friday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“For anybody from the black community to go, especially clergy, is a disrespect to Dr. King’s legacy.”
The mayor, Calloway said, is “not really into practicing transparency. We feel that the mayor is really practicing a lot of PR moves.”
The city had opposed the release of the videos as recently as December 23, just weeks after the mayor pledged a new era of transparency. However, the city late Wednesday filed a motion to vacate its previous objections.
Gettleman scolded the city and mayor’s office, saying it was “irresponsible” to waste taxpayers’ money and the court’s time with its previous opposition.
“I’m very disturbed at the way this happened,” Gettleman said. “This should not have happened the way it did.”
He blasted city attorneys for the December motion in which they stated it was not clear from the videos who fired at Chatman. Gettlemen said that wasn’t true: “It’s clear to me who fired the shots.”
The judge said the key issue at trial will be “whether Officer Fry had cause to fire his weapon at Chatman.”
In Thursday’s hearing, Jonathan Green, an attorney representing the city, said the city decided to drop its objection to the videos’ release as part of the mayor’s new efforts at transparency, saying a task force is examining a new policy on how to handle videos of police shootings. The city had long opposed the release of such videos while investigations and court hearings were underway.
“The city recognizes, however, we’re in a new world,” Green said.
He confirmed there were no pending criminal investigations against the two officers in the Chatman shooting. The officers remain on their beats.
The shooting of Cedrick Chatman
This was the police account of the shooting:
Chatman ditched a stolen car and ran from the two officers. As Fry and Toth pursued on foot, police say, the 5-foot-7, 133-pound Chatman turned toward them.
“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, according to court records.
“It was a small black object, which I believed to be a handgun.”
Fearing for his partner’s life, Fry fired four shots.
The object turned out to be a black iPhone box.
Asked during a deposition whether the object was ever pointed at the two officers, Fry said, “No.”
When Chatman made the slight move to his right with his torso, Fry said, he immediately planted both his feet and took a firing position. He did not say anything or give any orders before opening fire.
“I felt his threat was as such that I didn’t have time to say anything.”
When shots rang out, Toth was still trying to close in on Chatman. “I slowed my pursuit ’cause I didn’t know where (the shots) were coming from,” Toth said, according to police reports.
Toth said he moved in to handcuff the suspect while he was on the ground. He noticed there wasn’t an object in his hands.
The original independent police investigator wanted to rule the shooting unjustified, saying the teen fled from Fry and Toth without posing a threat. That investigator, Lorenzo Davis, said he was fired when he refused to change his findings to a justified shooting.
A new investigator was assigned and ruled the shooting justified.
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 male in a school alcove after seeing a shiny object around his waist and fearing for their lives. The object wasn’t a weapon but a “shiny belt buckle,” according to an independent investigation of the shooting. The shooting was deemed justifiable, but CNN learned the city settled with the 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. Odom and Clarke were accused of participating in the carjacking with Chatman but were not with him when police came across the stolen Dodge Charger.
Caroline Glennon, the public defender for Odom, accused the state attorney’s office of “overreaching and abusing its power by charging two men with Cedrick’s murder who weren’t even there at the time he was killed.”
“They sat in jail for over 2½ years fighting their case before the state finally dismissed the felony murder charges against them in exchange for a plea to lesser charges,” Glennon told CNN.
The two pleaded guilty to robbery and unlawful vehicular invasion and were sentenced to 10 years in prison. They had each been looking at a minimum of 20 years in prison for murder.