Eight days after 18-year-old Paul O’Neal was shot dead by police in Chicago, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority has released body-camera footage of the moments leading up to the incident.
The videos—there are multiple, shot from different cameras—appear to show officers opening fire on O’Neal, who was black and unarmed, as he drives past them in a car, then pursuing him on foot after he jumps out of his vehicle and starts running away. While the footage didn’t capture O’Neal actually being killed—the body camera worn by the officer who fired the fatal shots was apparently not recording at the time—it’s possible to hear several gunshots being fired off screen before the footage comes to an end. An autopsy performed by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office showed that O’Neal was shot in the back.
A spokesman for the Chicago Police Department has told reporters that O’Neal was driving a Jaguar convertible that was believed to have been stolen when police moved to pull him over at 7:30 p.m. last Thursday night. Though it’s hard to see it in any of the videos, O’Neal is reported to have “rammed” one police car and “sideswiped” another before officers started shooting at him. [Update, Aug. 5, 4:40p.m.: This video, filmed from the perspective of a different officer than the one embedded above, unmistakably shows O’Neal striking a police car head-on before fleeing on foot.]
The clearest of the disturbing, chaotic videos can be seen here, via the Chicago Tribune.
The Chicago Police Department has taken a notably sober, even chastened, stance toward O’Neal’s death, which has drawn natural comparisons to the killing of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old who was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014. In that case—which led to widespread protests, a political firestorm for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and the ouster of police superintendent Garry McCarthy—city officials made a sustained effort over 13 months to keep video footage of the incident out of the public eye, and relented only when a judge ordered the tape to be released.
The official response to O’Neal’s death has been markedly different. Earlier this week, the new head of Chicago’s police department, Eddie Johnson, told reporters that a review of the incident had left him with “more questions than answers” as well as a sense that departmental policies were likely violated. Within 48 hours of the incident, the three police officers who were involved in the incident were stripped of their badges and guns pending an investigation into what exactly occurred.
While these signs of a culture change are surely encouraging, the footage under scrutiny is dispiriting and confusing. What did the officers think they were accomplishing when they began shooting into O’Neal’s car? And why did the officer who killed O’Neal decide it was necessary to fire at the teenager after he started running away?
The other big question raised by O’Neal’s death is why the body camera worn by the officer who shot him wasn’t recording.
In a statement issued after the release of the video Friday, police superintendent Johnson said that “individuals will be held accountable for their actions” should “wrongdoing be discovered.” He added: “I’ve challenged my team to take a hard look at the training and tactic from this incident, including looking at national best practices on use of force”—most likely a reference to Department of Justice guidelines instructing police officers to never shoot at moving cars, as well as the Chicago Police Department’s own rules against “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”