FBI warned Chicago cops of ambush threat over Laquan McDonald video

Informant said gang members intended to wait for cops to exit and walk toward their cars — a time when they would be vulnerable because they likely wouldn’t be wearing protective gear

By Stacy St. Clair, Todd Lighty and David Heinzmann
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The FBI warned the Chicago Police Department that officers’ lives could be in danger with the release of the Laquan McDonald video, according to documents released by the city.

In a Nov. 24 email sent just hours before the city made public the video of a white police officer shooting and killing the black 17-year-old, an FBI agent said that a confidential informant — who had provided reliable information in the past — reported plans to ambush officers in retaliation for the teen’s death.

“Violent rhetoric is high,” the FBI wrote. “Due to the recent media spotlight on officer-involved deaths of minorities, there is a lot of anger in the neighborhood served by the Chicago Police Department.”

According to the informant, gang members planned to set up outside the 14th District Headquarters on the West Side and the Homan Square Building, a police facility that has served as the setting for numerous police misconduct allegations in recent years. The informant said gang members intend to wait for police employees to exit and walk toward their cars — a time when the officers would be considered vulnerable because they likely wouldn’t be wearing protective gear or bullet-proof vests.

“In addition to being unarmed and unprotected, these employees will likely be in either small groups or by themselves, which would make them targets of opportunity,” the FBI said. “(Confidential human source) states that shooters may lay in wait, and then conduct an ambush.”

FBI spokesman Garrett Croon on Tuesday said the bureau notified city police about the source’s information. He declined further comment and referred questions to the Police Department, which did not have an immediate response.

There were no known attacks on police officers following the video’s release.

The FBI warning was included in more than 20,000 pages of emails released by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration at 11:57 p.m. Monday. Faced with a court order to turn over all emails sent or received by former police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in December, the city also released McCarthy’s emails from November.

Emanuel fired McCarthy on Dec. 1 as the city was roiled by the release of a dashcam video showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald. Despite his ouster, McCarthy had access to his department email for the rest of the month.

Some emails that flooded McCarthy’s inbox were not unlike those any office worker might receive: spam, an invitation to a party and a joke. Others emails collected daily news clippings, crime statistics and department news releases.

There also were several messages of support following McCarthy’s abrupt firing, including one from the commander who initially cleared the officer in the McDonald shooting.

The emails also include McCarthy’s termination letter sent Dec. 17. McCarthy forwarded it to his wife, Kristin, noting that Emanuel’s chief of staff Eileen Mitchell — and not the mayor — had signed the letter.

“He didn’t even have the balls to sign it himself,” McCarthy wrote.

Emanuel’s spokesman Adam Collins said Tuesday that it’s common for the chief of staff to sign termination letters. And he called the focus on the issue “nonsense.”

“First, the mayor met with Garry to inform him of the decision personally on Dec. 1. Then he stood before press to explain his decision and the city’s need to move forward,” Collins said.

The city had failed to include that email in the roughly 1,500 it released last week under a court order. The Chicago Tribune — which had successfully sued the city for the records — was able to identify at least 17 emails that were not included in those documents.

City officials said the department re-ran a search for McCarthy’s emails after the Tribune pointed out the missing records. The department did not purposely withhold them, police spokesman Frank Giancamilli said.

The emails, in part, showed broad community and department support for McCarthy after Emanuel fired him.

The November emails demonstrate the build-up to the video’s release, though with little direct commentary from McCarthy. The records show, among other things, that he canceled travel plans a week before the video became public and he monitored the department’s plans to police the protests.

In an email to the entire department, McCarthy directed his officers to treat protesters respectfully and allow them the opportunity to voice their opinions.

“Professionalism is paramount during situations that may test your fortitude,” he wrote on Nov. 20. “If incidents do arise, I am confident you will maintain the composure and character necessary to safeguard the welfare of our communities. Take great care not to let the circumstances surrounding such an event dictate and undermine your response, but instead rely on your experience, skill and tactical patience to achieve an effective resolution.”

As protesters took to the streets in largely peaceful demonstrations, a local pastor emailed McCarthy on Thanksgiving Day to ask if they should cancel an upcoming community police event at the church.
McCarthy wanted to keep the commitment, which was scheduled for Dec. 2.

“I believe in moving forward,” McCarthy wrote. “We have too many projects in motion.”

Three days later, the pastor canceled the event.

“Definitely have to wait,” Pastor Christopher Harris of Bright Star Church in Bronzeville wrote. “The purpose of our meeting will be lost in the shuffle of very high emotions and participation will likely be extremely low from my community.”

Copyright 2016 Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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