Credit: Illustration: Paul Higgins

December 15, 2012, was a bleak, rainy Saturday with a chill in the air. Chicago police officer Ruth Castelli, an eight-year veteran of the force, was patrolling the city’s southwest side with fellow officer Christopher Hackett. The two didn’t usually ride together, but Castelli’s regular partner was on leave. The day started innocuously enough—earlier that morning Castelli had participated in “Shop With a Cop,” a seasonal initiative that sends officers on a shopping trip to Target with underprivileged children on their beat. The rest of the day proved to be far more consequential.

Castelli and Hackett were in their Chevy Tahoe when word came in: according to testimony that Castelli later gave, around 11:15 AM a dispatcher called over the radio that four black men in a silver SUV had just robbed someone at gunpoint at a gas station at 38th and Kedzie. Castelli and Hackett sped off to find the vehicle, their sirens silent.

The story of what happened next would gradually take shape based on bits of information, coming first from Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden, and then eventually from a Chicago Police Department statement attributed to then-superintendent Garry McCarthy.

The tale they told would be used to justify the fatal shooting of an unarmed man—and to absolve the officer involved of any wrongdoing.

Camden explained how the scene unfolded. In conversations reported by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune, he described a tense and dangerous encounter between Castelli, Hackett, and 23-year-old Englewood resident Jamaal Moore. Moore was a suspect in the gas station robbery, Camden said. A 911 call reporting the incident sent Castelli and Hackett on the chase. News reports differ on what Moore and his cohort were accused of—some quote Camden alleging one robbery, while another attributed a string of robberies to the inhabitants of the silver-gray SUV. There was also confusion about the exact number of people in the automobile.

Regardless, Camden went on, within 90 seconds of the dispatch, Castelli and Hackett were hot on the trail of the SUV. Their own police vehicle topped out at 70 miles per hour, Castelli later told investigators. The chase ended when the fleeing driver careened the SUV into a large black lamppost at Garfield and Ashland. Most of the passengers jumped out and ran, Camden said.

What happened next is hazy in news reports—one of the police cars on the scene skidded onto the sidewalk, McCarthy said, and “may have hit Moore,” who was struggling to get out of the car.

Hackett then wrestled with Moore, according to news reports. “[Hackett] was thrown around like a rag doll,” McCarthy told reporters at an unrelated press conference later that day. Then, as Hackett tried to handcuff Moore, the 23-year-old flipped him to the ground not once but twice. One of the officers yelled that Moore had a gun. After that, said McCarthy, Moore charged at Castelli.

She responded by firing her 9mm semiautomatic handgun.

“Based on the male officer saying that [Moore] had a gun, she was in fear and she fired twice, striking him,” McCarthy said.

When the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)—the body that investigates police shootings—eventually cleared Castelli of any wrongdoing in Moore’s death, the agency cited what had by then become a familiar narrative, crafted and repeated by both the FOP and CPD: the officers were preventing Moore’s escape following an alleged armed robbery attempt, and they “reasonably believe[d] that such force [was] necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm” to Castelli, her partner, or anyone else.

There was just one problem: this story wasn’t true.

“Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end. These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change.”

—Pat Camden­

Key aspects of the media’s original reporting began to fall apart just hours after Moore was shot. First, Moore’s connection to the robbery was called into question. On the day of the shooting, Camden told the Tribune that Moore, ostensibly pegged as the driver of the silver SUV, had “pulled out a weapon” during the alleged truck robbery. But when contacted for a follow-up by DNAinfo, Camden said he had “no idea if there was a robbery” and downgraded the role of the car to “a possibility of a connection” to “a gray SUV.”

More discrepancies would emerge, each one discrediting the story initially presented by the police union and CPD, and each calling into question the outcome of IPRA’s investigation.

It wasn’t the first time or the last that the FOP, through Camden, blurred the lines between fact and fiction. In its dual roles of providing both information to the media and legal defense for its members, the FOP has helped shape the narrative around police shootings, arguing consistently that the officers involved feared for their lives.

There have been 48 fatal police shootings in Chicago since 2012, Camden’s first full year on the job. At least 17 have resulted in lawsuits, and at least one—that of Esau Castellanos-Bernal—has resulted in a federal investigation.

(Since no local or national media outlet comprehensively tracked victims of police violence prior to last year, City Bureau and the Reader compiled a data set of fatal police shootings since 2012 based on press releases from the city and CPD, and from local and national media databases. IPRA counts 47 fatal police shootings during this time, based on CPD data. But the department’s tally of fatalities has previously been called into question by Chicago magazine and other news outlets.)

The FOP, through Camden, provided an initial version of events for 35 of these shootings. A City Bureau and Reader analysis found 15 cases in which crucial aspects of Camden’s statements were later proved to be false or misleading based on evidence filed in lawsuits, unearthed in media investigations, or captured on video.

A sobering mix of factors enables the FOP to put forth misinformation with little pushback, City Bureau and the Reader found through media analysis, as well as interviews with union officials, labor experts, and local reporters. The Chicago Police Department rarely issues an official statement in the hours immediately following a police shooting—supervisors with the authority to issue statements may be asleep, and the information must work its way through the department’s own bureaucracy. In this information vacuum, the news media usually turn to the FOP, frequently citing the police union’s version of events as the definitive one. In the media’s rush to publish a story, and with few resources to investigate cases further, articles often go to press relying entirely on the FOP’s narrative. A legal case tilted in favor of the officer then moves through a weak accountability system heavily circumscribed by the FOP’s contract with the city.

According to experts this is just one alarming example of the power of police unions. Police officers—and their unions—possess an increasing sense of invincibility, says Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former police officers and others working against the effects of the “war on drugs.”

“The growing strength of police unions over the last 20 years has given them a feeling of impunity and arrogance that their only job is to protect the police officer,” Downing says, “regardless of what they’ve actually done.”

Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.
Pat Camden boasts of commenting on more than 500 police-involved shootings during more than four decades with the Chicago Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.Credit: Illustration: Paul Higgins / Photo: John H. White/Chicago Sun-Times

Camden enters the scene

On February 1, 2008, Jody Weis was sworn in as the 54th superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley gave Weis, a former FBI agent, a mandate regularly thrown at new police chiefs: to stem the tide of shootings in the city while beefing up community policing.

Weis, criticized as an outsider from his first moments on the job, began by cleaning house; three deputy superintendents resigned within days of his hiring. Patrick Camden, a former police officer who called himself the “voice and face” of the department and was a fixture on the scene of police shootings, was among those compelled to retire.

Camden joined the force in 1970 and worked at CPD’s Office of News Affairs from 1985 to 1998. He “retired” that year, only to be rehired 24 hours later in the newly created civilian role of deputy news director, a position he held for the next ten years. Camden estimated then that he had offered up information on police shootings 325 times as a department spokesman.

The city had recently undergone a shift in its accountability structure, with the 2007 creation of IPRA, meant to replace the internal Office of Professional Standards. Unlike OPS, the new agency was run by civilians, and crucially, was billed as being independent from police.

But Camden felt that the launch of IPRA had also stymied the free flow of information he’d been used to directing as press officer for CPD. As he left the department, Camden lamented that, under IPRA, the public knew less about police shootings than it did before.

His public frustration with CPD’s new information system found an outlet three years later when he became the spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7.

Camden’s presence marked a sea change in the organization’s relationship with the media. Then-president Michael Shields announced Camden’s hiring in May 2011 with the stated goal of changing the public’s perception of the union. To do this, Shields said, “it is imperative to have a voice in the media.” Shields saw Camden’s experience with CPD—and with local news outlets—as invaluable.

“When Pat Camden shows up on a scene of a police shooting, the media looks to him for guidance,” Shields said.

(That year also marked a huge shift in the union’s political spending strategy, with total political expenditures more than doubling, according to filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.)

Prior to 2011, the FOP’s official spokesman was its sitting president. City Bureau and the Reader could not find any instance in which Mark Donahue, FOP president from 2002 to 2011, was quoted in a breaking news story about a police shooting.

But under Camden, the union’s media reach greatly expanded.

When Camden got a call about a shooting, nine times out of ten he headed straight to his sedan—no coffee, no food, no special uniform—to get to the scene.

“I’m not rushing,” Camden said in a recent interview, “but I’m trying to get there in a reasonable amount of time.”

He once had a squad car that could clear the streets, but those days were long behind him—without traffic, it took him about 45 minutes to drive into the city from his home in Will County. Once at the scene, his shock of white hair, tan face, and neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper moustache made him easily recognizable.

Camden often arrived after some of the initial confusion had died down. From there, he’d talk to union reps already present. They’d tell him what they’d gleaned from the officer, and Camden would relay that information to the media.

Crucially, he would give his statement from the officer’s point of view—before a witness had a chance to comment.

“Somebody says, ‘Hey, I want to get on TV’—maybe they haven’t been on the scene or anywhere near the scene but they want to be on television,” Camden says. “At that point, the officers need to at least get the basic facts of the shooting out.”

“Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is ‘that kind of kid.’ It’s lies about him, but that is the story people start believing.”

—Gwendolyn Moore, the mother of Jamaal Moore, who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer in 2012­

Camden says he was never skeptical of an officer’s story—especially the part where an officer feared for his life. Camden always believed him.

“Why would an officer shoot somebody if he wasn’t in fear of his life?” he asks.

But many fatal incidents call into question the underlying assumption that cops only shoot civilians when in fear for their own lives.

In March 2012, for example, Rekia Boyd was shot in the back of the head by Dante Servin, an off-duty CPD detective. Camden told the Tribune that Servin, while driving down his block near Douglas Park late at night, saw a group of people “causing a disturbance.” When Servin told them to “quiet down,” one of them approached his car and pointed a gun in his direction. Servin fired four shots over his shoulder and out of his window, hitting Antonio Cross in the hand and Boyd in the head.

Servin was in fear for his life, Camden said on the scene. Cross, who was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, was charged with assaulting a police officer. Police did not say whether a gun had been recovered, the Tribune noted; we now know that there was no gun—Cross had been wielding a cell phone as he gestured towards Servin.

Then in September 2013, Marlon Horton was shot and killed by Kenneth Walker, an off-duty police officer working as a security guard at a Chicago Housing Authority development near the United Center. Camden told the Tribune that Walker saw Horton and Shaquila Moore, a civilian security guard, struggling in the lobby of the complex. They got Horton to leave the building, but then saw him urinating on a truck in the parking lot. Walker told Horton to leave and identified himself as police, at which point Horton began fighting, pulling Walker to the ground and, according to Camden, ripping out a dozen of Moore’s braids. Camden said that Walker shot Horton after Horton “lunged” towards Walker.

Security camera footage tells a much different story. Though it is partially obscured, the footage shows Walker initiating the physical conflict with Horton; Moore then joins in. Horton never pulls Walker to the ground or rips out Moore’s hair. Though Horton appears agitated, nothing suggests he posed an immediate danger to Walker or Moore. Jarrod Horton, Marlon’s brother, has sued Walker, Moore, the city, and CHA in federal court.

These are just a few of the “well over 500 police-involved shootings” Camden now boasts of commenting on in a combined three decades at CPD and FOP. It’s a role that seems to be unique among big-city American police unions.

“I cannot remember any occasion when the Los Angeles police union made any kind of statement [about a police shooting],” says former LAPD deputy chief Downing, explaining that the Los Angeles Police Protective League prefers not to comment on pending investigations. Veteran Detroit News crime reporter George Hunter said in an e-mail that Detroit Police Officers Association officials “generally don’t get involved in day-to-day crime stories unless the media reaches out to them first.” Christian Boone of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Joshua Scott Albert, who covers Philadelphia for the Daily Beast, both said that the police unions in their respective cities rarely speak out in initial media reports. Crime reporters in Baltimore, Oakland, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Miami, who asked not to be named, described similar situations in their cities.

Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death.
Gwendolyn Moore’s son Jamaal was fatally shot by police in 2012. She says his reputation was sullied by misinformation about the circumstances of his death.Credit: Jonathan Gibby

A union like no other

Chicago’s FOP Lodge 7 operates under the auspices of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, though it often acts independently. (Unions in other cities can be chapters of larger unions such as the FOP or the International Union of Police Association, or independent bodies.)

Though it would not become the official bargaining agent for CPD’s rank-and-file until 1980, Lodge 7 was incorporated as a charter of the national FOP in 1963. The 60s in Chicago fostered a political climate not unlike that of today, with a nationwide social movement tackling racial inequality. The civil rights movement criticized and made new demands on police, including that they wear name tags and implement citizen review boards. These attempts at reform prompted swift unionization efforts, according to Samuel Walker, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and an expert on police accountability.

“Many local unions originated or at least became more militant in response to specific police-community relations initiatives in the 1960s,” he wrote in his seminal 2008 study “The Neglect of Police Unions.”

Though their stated goals included improving the wages and working conditions of their members, police unions also began lobbying against reforms and negotiating contracts that were protective of officers accused of misconduct in the line of duty.

Lodge 7’s first president, Joseph Lefevour, was quoted in multiple media stories throughout the 1960s defending officer misconduct. In July 1966, he told an AP reporter that he blamed Martin Luther King Jr. for riots protesting police violence. “He preached nonviolence,” Lefevour said. “Yet, wherever he goes, violence erupts.”

Lefevour also vigorously defended CPD officers following the infamous “police riots” at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He characterized Mayor Richard J. Daley’s orders that police should “shoot to kill” protesters as a “positive position,” and excused extreme police brutality by saying, “[Police officers] are Americans. When they saw people tear down the flag and run up the Viet Cong flag, well, they’re red-blooded Americans.” The Reader later reported that the “police riots” were in fact a coordinated offensive against protesters, orchestrated by police leaders and people in Daley’s inner sanctum.

Lodge 7 also argued against a proposal to create a “Fred Hampton Day,” named in honor of the Black Panther leader whose death at the hands of Chicago police became the era’s most notorious example of police disinformation. Police claimed that officers attempting to serve the Panthers with a search warrant for weapons had been dragged into a gun battle with Hampton and others. It later emerged that the attack on Hampton had been coordinated between CPD, the FBI, and Cook County state’s attorney’s office—and that Hampton had been unarmed and in bed.

Lodge 7 would later use membership dues to pay for the legal defense of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander implicated in torturing potentially hundreds of black and Latino men into false confessions over three decades.

Defending officers is a key part of the FOP’s mission—and that of most police unions. Ron DeLord, the founder and former ten-term president of the largest police association in Texas and an expert on union-police relations, says that the key reason any officer joins a union is first and foremost to obtain legal protection in case of allegations of misconduct.

“You paid us to provide your day in court,” DeLord says. “It isn’t our job to try you [for what you did], that’s the job of the judicial system.”

According to Lodge 7’s tax forms, its top expense from 2010-2014 after staff salaries was legal fees—at a rate of roughly $1.5 million a year. In 2014 alone, the FOP paid $230,000 to Daniel Q. Herbert & Associates, the law firm representing officer Jason Van Dyke as he faces first-degree murder charges for the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. (Herbert was previously Lodge 7’s in-house counsel.) In November 2015 the FOP started a collection to raise money for Van Dyke, and eventually put up $1.5 million to release him on bond. Chicago’s FOP is also pushing the city to destroy nearly six decades of police misconduct files as part of an ongoing contract dispute.

Filling ‘the void’

The FOP’s mission to protect its Chicago members and its desire to shape the narrative of a police shooting are thus closely entwined. In the first few hours after a police shooting, a lack of information creates what Camden calls “the void.” Journalists tipped off to a shooting scramble to find details of what has transpired. This leaves the first person or agency to comment with significant leeway to influence the story.

“It’s a law of nature,” Camden says. “If there’s a void, somebody has to fill it.”

That “somebody” is rarely CPD, which reporters say can take hours to make an official statement about a shooting. Getting an on-the-record response from a CPD department head, chief, or beat cop is highly unusual. This leaves journalists left to rely on press releases that offer little more than boilerplate information. In the September 2012 fatal shooting of Christopher McGowan, the department wrote merely that, “The offenders pointed a weapon at the officers and as a result of this action, officers discharged their weapons fatally wounding one of the offenders.”

A veteran journalist who’s covered breaking news and crime for more than a decade—and who asked that his name not be used because of concerns that his employer might object—identified several limitations to fully reporting on police shootings, among them that a reporter may not be on the scene, could wait hours for a statement from police, may not have access to witnesses, and is often working to publish the news as soon as possible.

CPD has “no written policy” for disseminating information following a police shooting, according to spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, although the department does suggest that the ranking officer on the scene respond to news media inquiries, with the option to “designate a subordinate member to speak to the media.”

That rarely happens, the veteran journalist said.

And so, the void.

The journalist said that in his experience, not only would Camden take his calls—he’d go so far as to initiate the conversation, reaching out after a shooting to give his version of events.

“There was pressure to get something out,” the reporter noted. Best practice was to “wait for the official police statement and lead with it, and fill in the gaps with the Camden stuff.” But in the rush to meet a deadline, “a lot of what [Camden] said became the majority of the story.”

Camden’s demeanor, said the journalist, “was very buddy-buddy with reporters.” At the center of that was access: “The thing with Camden is, he is a spokesman for the police officers, so you always had to take what [Camden] said with a grain of salt. . . . But he was so good at his job and so nice with reporters. You could always call him on his cell . . . and he was often the only one releasing information at the time.”

But that information was always tainted by the FOP’s perspective, and its mission to protect its officers.

“What is interesting [about the FOP] is that they seem to embed a point of view in an information statement,” said Cristina Tilley, a former news reporter and an adjunct lecturer at Northwestern University. “They are simultaneously confirming the information and are kind of spinning it.”

Jane Kirtley, a media ethics and law professor at the University of Minnesota, argues that journalists need to be critical of messages from the Fraternal Order of Police, which often come “with an authoritative veneer” despite their biased point of view.

“The union has its own agenda,” she added, often motivated by “an even stronger incentive to maintain the reputation of its members.”

Her advice for journalists is to always make clear when a statement can’t be backed up and explain the limitations of the information available. “This is what we heard according to the FOP, which is the police union—not everybody knows that.”

“There’s a huge responsibility on the part of the news media,” Walker says. “Here’s somebody who now has a record, a proven record, of deliberately giving out false information.”

Camden denies ever giving out misinformation deliberately, but echoes calls for responsibility from the media: journalists should know that the information they are getting may not be accurate.

“Anytime I talked to the media, it was always a disclaimer at the front end,” Camden says. “These statements are based on preliminary facts immediately following the incident . . . facts always subject to change.”

Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting.
Camden, pictured in 2003 during his time as a CPD spokesman, has often been the only voice of authority talking to reporters immediately after a police shooting.Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Weak accountability

The November 19, 2013, interview of officer Ruth Castelli took place at IPRA’s West Town office, a little more than six miles from where she shot and killed Jamaal Moore. IPRA’s office sits on the fourth floor of a redbrick building, where tall windows are framed in forest green.

The interview began around 10 AM, and Castelli’s team of lawyers and union reps outnumbered the investigators present to tackle her case—one IPRA investigator’s questions were scrutinized by Castelli, her lawyer, and her FOP field rep, Kriston Kato.

Castelli began the interview by noting that, per Kato’s advice, “I am not making this statement voluntarily but under duress and am only making this statement at this time because I know that I could lose my job if I refuse.”

Castelli’s entourage and her disclaimer point to one way the FOP does more than shape public perception of a shooting; the union also has the power to influence follow-up investigations via its contract
with CPD.

In these instances, a strong union contract comes up against IPRA’s weak and slow-moving accountability system, in which investigations take an average of 328 days to resolve.

The current agreement between Lodge 7 and the city runs through June 30, 2017, and lays out a wide range of contractual protections, from when and how an officer can be interviewed (during daylight hours, while on duty) to a provision making the results of a polygraph inadmissible in cases brought before the police board.

“The power balance has changed, because now, unlike the 60s, they have these various provisions in their contracts which provide special protections and special privileges,” says Walker, the police-accountability expert.

As stipulated by the union contract, a police officer accused of misconduct has up to 48 hours before he or she is interviewed by IPRA, though this shrinks to two hours in the case of a shooting, with allowance for an individual officer’s extenuating circumstances. (Strikingly, Castelli’s IPRA interview took place nearly a year after she shot and killed Moore.) From there, IPRA must provide the names of the primary and secondary investigators, as well as those of anyone else who will be in the room. A maximum of two members of IPRA or the Internal Affairs Department can be present in an interview at a time.

Kato, a former violent-crimes detective on the west side, was himself accused of misconduct during his time on the force. In 1991 the Reader reported on allegations that Kato, who is Asian-American, had beaten false confessions out of people, many of whom were African-American.

Any influence Kato may have had on Castelli’s interrogation is hard to pin down. Though the FOP contract stipulates that a union rep can advise officers during the interview, there are no statements from Kato recorded in the Moore case transcripts.

The IPRA investigator, Kymberly Reynolds, was herself a police officer with the LAPD from 1989 to 1991. Since 2010 she has not disciplined an officer listed in any of the 159 complaints she’s investigated, according to the Citizens Police Data Project.

Three months after Reynolds interviewed Castelli, IPRA cleared her of any wrongdoing in Moore’s death, finding that she acted in accordance with the department’s use-of-force policy. According to department records, Castelli is still employed by CPD.

In a statement, IPRA said, “We are aware that the union contract governs how we interact with officers. We’re examining the contract to see if there might be changes that can be made in the future.”

The Laquan McDonald case

On the evening of October 20, 2014, police officers received a call that a young man was trying to break into cars in Archer Heights, and that he was armed with a knife. Before the night was out, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would be dead, shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke.

As in so many other cases, the media machine justifying McDonald’s death shifted into full gear, starting with the arrival of Camden on the scene.

Talking to the Tribune, Camden painted the incident in lurid detail: “He’s got a 100-yard stare. He’s staring blankly. [He] walked up to a car and stabbed the tire of the car and kept walking.”

From there, Camden claimed that McDonald “lunged” at police and was then shot in the chest. The officers on the scene, he said, were forced to defend themselves. “You obviously aren’t going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with [him],” Camden told CBS 2.

News media reported the case as Camden described it. Chicago police had no choice but to shoot McDonald, NBC Chicago said. Its reporter on the scene repeated the FOP’s claims, citing the union as a police source and saying that, though IPRA had launched an investigation, “police say this was a clear-cut case of self-defense.” Reports from the Tribune, ABC 7, and CBS 2 echoed that conclusion.

What really happened that night is now evident from the release of autopsy reports and a grainy but painfully clear dashcam video. As McDonald walked away unsteadily from the line of police vehicles, he was shot again and again by Van Dyke. The officer continued to shoot McDonald even after the 17-year-old fell to the ground.

Officials eager to distance themselves from the FOP’s initial statements began backtracking the day after the video’s November 24 release. Camden told the Washington Post that his statement about McDonald being a “very serious” threat to the officers wasn’t firsthand or even secondhand information. In fact, he said, “I have no idea where it came from.”

“[Camden]’s standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it’s the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they’re not, then they’re complicit.”

—Retired LAPD deputy chief Stephen Downing­

“I never talked to the officer, period,” Camden told the Post. “It was told to me after it was told to somebody else who was told by another person, and this was two hours after the incident . . . hearsay is basically what I’m putting out at that point.”

Likewise, then-police chief McCarthy walked back his comments on the shooting, telling NBC Chicago that the initial press release was wrong. He took responsibility for the error— “I guess that’s my fault,” he said—even though the first media comments had come from Camden.

Indeed, the roughly 3,000 pages of e-mails subsequently released from the mayor’s office show a battle to separate the public image of the police department from that of the FOP.

An exchange between John Holden, public affairs director for the city’s Law Department, and Shannon Braymaier, deputy director of communications for the mayor’s office, regarding the wording in an NBC 5 story about the e-mail release, notes that the station’s reference to “the Chicago Police Department’s story” about what happened the night McDonald was killed was, in fact, the FOP’s story.

“They amended the online story which clarifies the subject line issue, but leaves in the reference to the Chicago Police Department’s story. I have told Don [Moseley, the well-respected NBC producer] twice that it was not the ‘Chicago Police Department’s story’ but rather the FOP’s. I will continue to monitor,” Holden wrote.

“This mistake is the crux of their entire story,” Breymaier replied. “This is a completely unnecessary self-inflicted wound that should and could have been easily avoided.”

The e-mails also include a letter from McDonald’s lawyer, Jeffrey Neslund, spelling out how the city was culpable in letting Camden spread false information. “There must . . . be accountability for the City and the Department’s role in allowing false information to be disseminated to the media via the FOP in an attempt to win public approval and falsely characterize the fatal shooting as ‘justified,’ ” Neslund wrote in an e-mail dated March 6, 2015. “Here, within an hour of the shooting, the FOP spokesman gave a statement to the press describing the circumstances surrounding the shooting which contained misrepresentations, misleading information and outright falsehoods.”

Downing, the former LAPD deputy chief, also places blame on the CPD and the city for allowing Camden to disseminate false information from a crime scene. “I’d throw his ass in jail in a minute,” he said. “That’s gotta be the best definition of interfering with an investigation. He’s standing up there representing an official body; the public is listening to him represent the police organization, even though it’s the union. The police department and the city administration should be objecting to that; if they’re not, then they’re complicit.”

Dominoes of reform

Since the Laquan McDonald shooting, Camden has been noticeably silent; just one of nine police shootings since then—that of Martice Milliner, who was fatally shot in Chatham—featured comments from the FOP rep. An eyewitness interviewed by the Tribune disputed the circumstances of Milliner’s killing as laid out by Camden.

Camden attributes his new low profile to the FOP. “I don’t respond to shootings anymore unless the union specifically calls me,” he says. “It’s just the administration policy at this point in time.” Dean Angelo, the current Lodge 7 president, told the Tribune in November that the decision was made months after the McDonald shooting and was unrelated. But after a recent panel on police transparency, Angelo told City Bureau and the Reader that allegations of Camden making false statements at the scene of police shootings were “concerning,” and suggested that Camden should have never given such statements in the first place.

“That’s why you don’t see Pat Camden out anymore,” he said. “I’m the spokesman for the union now. The department makes the statements on the scene now, as it should have always been.” He confirmed that Camden is still employed by the union as a media liaison.

Media commentary, meanwhile, has largely turned against the entire policing structure in Chicago, taking the mayor’s office, CPD, IPRA, and the FOP to task. A November 27, 2015, editorial by the Tribune, which endorsed Rahm Emanuel in both 2011 and 2015, led with “the more we learn the worse it gets.” The Sun-Times, which also endorsed Emanuel both times, called for McCarthy’s resignation.

The mayor has responded with a flurry of new measures: extending the pilot body-camera program, creating a task force to review police misconduct, outfitting more officers with Tasers, and appointing a new IPRA chief to overhaul the agency.

CPD is responding too, in part by changing how police deal with the media. The department is developing a formal policy on the distribution of information after a police shooting, says CPD rep Guglielmi.

The policy will be based on others around the country, Guglielmi says, but he declined to give any additional information.

And on December 16, almost three years to the day of Moore’s death, the U.S. Department of Justice began a probe into CPD. The civil “pattern or practice” investigation will look into whether the Laquan McDonald case was a paradigm of misconduct and civil rights violations.

The probe could result in a federal consent decree, which would give the DOJ temporary oversight of the police department. Changes mandated by the consent decree could even come head-to-head with aspects of the city’s union contract, as has happened in Seattle and Cleveland, both of which have police departments under federal oversight.

The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore.
The dashcam video from Ruth Castelli’s police vehicle reveals the moment when the officer, shown here with her face blurred, pulled her gun on Jamaal Moore.Credit: NBC 5

What really happened

Camden and McCarthy’s initial story about the morning Ruth Castelli fatally shot Jamaal Moore—the gun, the robbery, the part where Hackett was thrown around “like a rag doll” by a person who had just been run over by an SUV—fell apart.

The most definitive story of what happened the morning Moore was killed comes from the video footage obtained from Castelli’s car and security-camera footage taken from the gas station at Garfield and Ashland. The images are made blurry around the edges by the rain, and the ground shines as the last minutes of Moore’s life play out.

In the gas station footage, Moore’s silver SUV skids across the wet pavement, begins to spin around, and strikes a lamppost, which falls and crashes on top of the car. Four people jump out of the back, running across the gas station parking lot. Moore, struggling to join them, is then hit by the police SUV, with Hackett behind the wheel.

Dashcam footage shows Moore crawling out from underneath the police vehicle. Hackett then climbs on top of him, attempting to put him in handcuffs. He then appears to fall forward over Moore, later testifying that he “got too high on [Moore’s] shoulders.” Moore breaks free, and begins to get up and run away.

McCarthy’s claim that Moore had charged at Castelli was untrue—surveillance footage shows him standing up briefly only to turn and fall to the ground.

Castelli claims that she saw a “black object” in Moore’s hand and shouted, “Gun! Gun!” But the dashcam corroborates neither of those things; the shot is not clear enough, and there is no audio. (Eighty percent of CPD’s dash cams don’t have functioning audio, Gugliemi told DNAinfo in December, and 22 officers were disciplined last month for interfering with the recording devices.)

But we now know that the only guns the night Moore was shot belonged to Castelli and her partner.

A black flashlight was found at the scene, but whether Moore was actually holding it at the time Castelli shot him is in dispute. Castelli testified that he was holding it; in official depositions, two witnesses said he was not.

Camden stressed to the Tribune that even though no gun had been recovered from the scene, the earlier truck robbery had involved one—as if to further implicate Moore in a crime with which he was never charged. Police documents show that Moore was not charged for the alleged truck robbery. Instead, he was posthumously charged with aggravated assault of an officer with a handgun—a charge that was later changed to aggravated battery of an officer with his hands after it was determined that Moore was unarmed.

Cook County medical examiner records show that Moore, who died at the scene, was shot twice, in the back and the side of his pelvis.

Moore’s mother, Gwendolyn, sued the city in federal court, alleging, among other things, that police officers at the scene had referred to her son as “just another dead nigger.” City lawyers settled for $1.25 million without legally admitting any guilt. In a memorandum opinion, federal judge James Holderman wrote that the dashcam video “undercuts [the police and FOP] version of events.”

But Moore’s mother says that apologies and settlement money, whatever the amount, will never undo the damage done by Castelli, McCarthy, and Camden. At the time of his death, Moore had been engaged. The money from the settlement will go to Moore’s young son, she said, but it won’t change the fact that he’ll grow up without a father. Moore is gone, his mother said, and his name has been dragged through
the mud.

“Not only did I just lose my son under false pretense, you have [the public] thinking he is that kind of kid,” she said. “It’s lies about him, but that is the story people start believing.” v

This report was produced in partnership with City Bureau, a Chicago-based journalism lab. Additional reporting and editing by Darryl Holliday.