POLITICS

Chicago Mayor Fires City's Top Cop In Wake Of Laquan McDonald Criticism

Rahm Emanuel said it was time for "fresh eyes and new leadership."

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Police Department's top cop has been fired. 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday that he had formally asked for the resignation of Superintendent Garry McCarthy, whom he hand-picked to lead the department in 2011.

McCarthy has faced harsh criticism for his handling of the high-profile shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager shot 16 times in 2014 by a white Chicago police officer.

Emanuel praised McCarthy Tuesday as an "excellent leader" throughout his tenure, but said his appointee was now "a distraction" as the department grapples internally with misconduct and externally with mistrust from the community. The mayor said the department's leadership had been "shaken." 

"I have a lot support and confidence in the work and results he has done," Emanuel said of McCarthy. "But our goal is to build the trust and confidence with the public."

"At this point -- in this juncture in the city -- he has become an issue rather than dealing with the issue," he said.

Chief John Escalante, McCarthy’s deputy, will lead the department until a new superintendent is appointed. 

Last Tuesday, McCarthy and Emanuel appeared in a joint press conference ahead of the release of damning dashcam footage from the 2014 shooting. The video shows the officer, Jason Van Dyke, gunning down the teen in the middle of the street as he walks away from police. 

Both the department and the mayor's office had tried to keep the recording from going public. Reporters and lawyers fought for more than a year to get the dashcam footage released, and filed multiple lawsuits to compel the department to do so. The city was finally forced to release the video under court order. 

Earlier Tuesday, McCarthy appeared on NBC Chicago for an in-person interview in which he claimed responsibility for the now widely discredited police account after McDonald's 2014 death.

“The initial press release was mistaken, no two ways about it,” McCarthy told NBC. “I guess that’s my fault.”

Hours later, the normally collected mayor appeared nervous throughout the press conference, stammering over his prepared remarks before facing a barrage of questions from reporters, who probed into a suspected political agenda behind McCarthy's ouster.

The embattled mayor, who is facing calls for his own resignation, had scheduled the conference to announce the city's new police accountability task force. But after announcing McCarthy's departure midway through, reporters asked if the news was a sign of Emanuel's leadership becoming a "distraction" as well.

Emanuel said his decision to let McCarthy go was an example of his accountability as mayor, but exempted himself from his own call for "fresh eyes and new leadership."

Various political, religious, legal and activist groups have called for the jobs of Emanuel, McCarthy and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez in the week since the city released footage of the shooting.

While McCarthy's ouster is the most significant fallout from the tape's release, pressure on Emanuel and the police department shows no signs of letting up. 

Activists urged a Black Friday shopping boycott to protest McDonald's killing, and occupied Chicago's tony downtown shopping district on Michigan Avenue. Local store managers and staff later told the Chicago Tribune that the protests cost shops 25 to 50 percent of their projected sales for the day.

Though the police department has also released four additional dashcam videos from the night of McDonald's fatal shooting in response to open records requests, it remains far from forthcoming.

As of Tuesday, officials were still dodging questions over why audio is selectively missing from the first video released, and why 86 minutes of security footage from a Burger King restaurant near the incident vanished after police requested access to the tapes.

A restaurant manager for months has maintained police requested access to Burger King's surveillance system and erased footage; Newly published photos show police at the restaurant the night of the shooting. 

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