A Day in the Life of the Finance Committee: Estate of McDonald, case no. 14C2041

ON APRIL 13, 2015, five days after Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel narrowly won re-election, his corporation counsel, Steve Patton, appeared before the finance committee of the City Council.  He was there to urge aldermen to authorize a $5 million payment that the City had negotiated with Laquan McDonald‘s family.  (A transcript of the committee meeting is below.)

While Mr Patton made the aldermen uneasily aware that a video from the scene would establish that Laquan McDonald’s killing had been wrong and unnecessary, he plied them at the same time with positive arguments about the pay-out, a ‘common sense’ measure that would save the city trouble and money.  Already the family had been talked down from $16 million to just 5; settling with them would keep the video under wraps and silence inconvenient truths that the plaintiffs’ lawyers were murmuring.

Questions from the finance committee were not very searching but betray some disapproval and disgust.  Alderman Laurino’s questions about why Tasers were unavailable at the scene prompted Alderman Burke to comment, “It would appear had the Taser been available in this case, the taxpayers wouldn’t be shelling out $5 million.”  Alderman Burke, once a city cop, recalled that, in his day, officers were taught to shoot only three rounds (instead of the 16 that Officer Jason Van Dyke pumped into McDonald).  Alderman Ervin’s questions explored whether the officer who killed McDonald (identified to them only as ‘Officer A’) would be bear any responsibility, given that his misconduct was about to be cleaned up by the city.

The finance committee (which included ‘good’ aldermen like Scott Waguespack) then approved Patton’s proposal, which swiftly advanced to the Council, where it passed unopposed.  Alderman Burke, as the committee’s chair, introduced the $5-million payout merely as ‘Estate of McDonald, the case 14C2041.‘  This cryptic cue was understood by all, for the Council, with Mayor Emanuel present and wielding the gavel, approved the measure in 36 seconds, without a single question about what it might mean.

As a consequence, the rights and wrongs of McDonald’s shooting were never discussed in a judicial setting, sparing the city from accusations of wrong-doing.

The finance-committee transcript establishes that members of the Emanuel administration and City Council knew in April that McDonald’s killing was likely unjustified.  They knew that ‘Officer A’s’ actions were uncalled-for and way out of line.  In light of that uncomfortable reality, however, aldermen went along with the mayor fairly readily, agreeing to pay off the victim’s family rather than to speak out against City Hall or the police’s actions or to demand any change.

(Thanks to Natasha Korecki for making this transcript available on Scribd.)