IPRA Chief Sharon Fairley Explains Decision for Releasing O’Neal Videos

Newly released videos capturing the events leading up to the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal sparked protests over the weekend.

The black teenager’s death has become the latest crisis facing an already beleaguered police department and the politically vulnerable Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but some observers say the quick decision to suspend three officers involved in the shooting and release the videos just eight days after the fatal encounter shows a dramatic change in how the city shares information with the public and holds police officers accountable.

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In comparison, it took a little over a year for the city to release videos of the now infamous police shooting of Laquan McDonald—and the Emanuel administration only did so after a court order from a Cook County judge. Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, didn’t face charges until a day before the city released the videos.

Sharon Fairley, the chief administrator for the Independent Police Review Authority, said the decision to release the videos was made after considering the public interest.

“When I was first appointed in December, I think it was clear that the city had been operating under this sort of basic, bright-line rule that they just did not release any evidence in an ongoing investigation until the criminal investigation was complete. It was painfully clear to me that that rule is no longer tenable in this day and age,” Fairley said. “With every case, we will no longer follow that rule, and we will weigh the public interest in information versus the potential risk to an ongoing investigation in making the determination as when and if any kinds of evidence will be released.”

Fairley stressed that there are still a lot of unknowns in the case, including questions about whether the body camera worn by the officer who shot O’Neal was activated.

“What I can say is that first of all we don’t know exactly who shot Paul O’Neal yet. The evidence is not in to establish that clearly, definitively. And so secondly, the issue of whether or not his body cam was activated in a manner that is consistent with policy is part of the investigation that we’re undertaking and again, the evidence is still to be gotten to figure that out,” Fairley said.

Jamie Kalven, the veteran journalist who first raised questions about the McDonald shooting, joined Fairley in conversation about the release of the videos with host Carol Marin. 

Related stories:

IPRA Releases Police Video of Paul O’Neal Shooting

Aug. 5: In a statement, Independent Police Review Authority Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley called the video of the shooting “shocking.”

IPRA Workers Fight to Keep the Agency Intact

Aug. 4: Investigators at the Independent Police Review Authority and the union that represents them are pushing back against the mayor's call to scrap and replace the agency.

FOP President Dean Angelo on Shooting of Paul O’Neal, Labor Day Weekend Staffing

Aug. 1: In a phone call late Monday afternoon, Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo spoke about the recent police-involved shooting of Paul O’Neal and the union’s call for police officers to reject Labor Day weekend overtime.

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