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Prosecutors say no criminal charges against Chicago police officer

Prosecutors in Chicago will not file criminal charges against a police officer who shot and killed a black man last year, an incident that occurred a week before a different fatal shooting that brought national scrutiny to Chicago’s police force, officials said Monday.

The decision was announced by Anita Alvarez, the state’s attorney for Cook County, Ill.

Alvarez held a lengthy news conference Monday to announce the decision, going over details of the investigation, what police and witnesses said and playing a dashboard camera video that captured a portion of the incident.

George Hernandez, a Chicago police officer, shot and killed Ronald Johnson III in October 2014, the week before a different officer shot and killed Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old. The fatal shooting of Johnson was captured in a graphic dashboard camera video that was released last month, drawing attention to Chicago at a time of an intense national focus on how police officers use deadly force.

Johnson had left a party with three other people when someone opened fire on their car, so they eventually parked and got out of the car, Alvarez said. No one was hurt, but the bullets shattered the rear windshield and damaged the car.

These officers saw that Johnson was carrying a gun and ordered him to drop the weapon, but he instead ran away while holding the gun, Alvarez said. He encountered other officers and, prosecutors say, there was a physical struggle between Johnson and an officer who wound up knocked to the ground while Johnson ran away.

Hernandez was with two other officers getting out of an unmarked police car when Johnson ran behind their car. Hernandez fired five shots, striking Johnson twice.

On Monday, authorities played video footage of the incident recorded by a police dashboard camera and then replayed it in slow-motion. The video shows Johnson running behind the car and across the street, and just after he leaves frame, Hernandez is seen firing his gun.

During the news conference, they also showed a still image of Johnson that appears to show something in his hand while he was running. In addition, they played portions of 911 calls from people in that area reporting gunfire, calls that prompted responding to the scene encountered some of the men who were in the car with Johnson at the time, Alvarez said.

Prosecutors say the weapon recovered from Johnson was a 9mm pistol.

Attorneys for Johnson’s family have accused the city and the police force of covering up what happened in the shooting, insisting that Johnson was unarmed when he was shot.

Alvarez said that “all of the evidence points to the fact” that Johnson had a gun when he was shot, including accounts from other people in the car with him the night he was killed.

Officers have considerable leeway when it comes to using lethal force. In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner that while police could not shoot at a fleeing suspect just to prevent their escape, they are allowed to shoot if they believe the person is violent and poses a significant danger.

Earlier on Monday, the Justice Department said it was launching a broad investigation into the Chicago Police Department to look at the way officers use force and to see if their actions are unconstitutional.

That federal probe followed protests and unrest in Chicago over the way authorities handled the shooting of McDonald, a teenager who was holding a knife when an officer fired more than a dozen shots at him last year.

The city released video footage of McDonald’s death last month after being ordered to do so by a judge. The same day, Alvarez announced murder charges against Jason Van Dyke, the officer who killed McDonald.

Less than a week after Van Dyke was charged and the video released, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, D, dismissed the head of his police department. He also announced a new task force that would look at ways to improve police accountability.

Alvarez said that the dashboard video of Ronald Johnson’s shooting was shown to the FBI, who said they were not going to participate in the investigation.