POLITICS
11/25/2015 12:52 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2016

Police Have No Idea How Laquan McDonald Footage Vanished Right After They Watched It

A Burger King manager says police deleted the restaurant's surveillance video, but police say they have no idea what happened.

On Tuesday evening, more than a year after Laquan McDonald's death, Chicago police released dashcam video showing officer Jason Van Dyke killing the black 17-year-old in a hail of 16 bullets.

Hours before the public saw the graphic footage, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder for the killing. Authorities have characterized the video as the only piece of evidence that shows how McDonald's life ended on the night of Oct. 20, 2014.

But there's reportedly another video that could have provided insight into the events leading up to and following the shooting -- if only it hadn't been mysteriously deleted.

Jay Darshane is district manager for a number of Chicago-area Burger King restaurants, including the one on Pulaski Road, the street McDonald was walking down when he was killed. Officers had pursued McDonald through the parking lot of Darshane's Burger King on the night of Oct. 20 to investigate reports that the teen had been breaking into trucks.

According to Darshane, that location is equipped with surveillance cameras that would have likely recorded parts of the brief pursuit, though not the actual shooting itself. In May, however, he told NBC Chicago that police had deleted the footage before he got a chance to see it.

On the night of the shooting, a handful of officers came to the restaurant and asked to view the recordings, Darshane said. Employees gave them the password to the equipment, and three hours later, the officers left, he said.

When an investigator for Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority showed up the next day asking for the same thing, the IPRA investigator found that nearly an hour and a half of footage recorded around the time of McDonald's death had gone missing. Darshane said the police must have been to blame.

"We had no idea they were going to sit there and delete files," Darshane told NBC Chicago. "I mean, we were just trying to help the police officers."

In an interview with MSNBC in May, Michael Robbins, an attorney for the McDonald family, said the gap in the footage was troubling.

"The fact that the police entered the Burger King restaurant without a warrant or a subpoena, accessed the system upon demanding the password, and then left and that 86 minutes or so of video is missing from all 11 cameras is something that gave us a great deal of concern," Robbins said.

"Now, the video would not have shown the actual shooting, but it would have shown the events leading up to the shooting and perhaps some of the witnesses during the course of the shooting and the police interaction with the witnesses following the shooting," he added. "There is no credible explanation for why this video is missing."

In an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Craig Futterman, a Chicago attorney who aggressively lobbied for the release of the dashcam video, said there was evidence to back up Darshane's claim from other Burger King employees.

"The Burger King cameras had seven different video files. The officer went into the Burger King, and he erased all seven of those files," Futterman said. "The irony is, though, that the Burger King surveillance video was running while the officer erased them. And so there's a videotape of the officer erasing the video."

Authorities have made no attempt to explain what happened to the video, and neither the Chicago Police Department nor the IPRA responded to The Huffington Post's request for comment. So far, however, officials have maintained that disappearance of the footage had nothing to do with the police.

In a statement in May, a spokesman for the IPRA said, "We have no credible evidence at this time that would cause us to believe CPD purged or erased any surveillance video."

On Tuesday, that story hadn't changed. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said accusations that police had scrubbed the video were "absolutely not true." Alvarez also responded to a question about the missing footage, saying "forensic testing" on the Burger King surveillance system didn't suggest anyone had tampered with the evidence.

She wouldn't say which agency had conducted the forensic probe, however.

While the official attempt to solve this mystery may be over, Darshane's part in it isn't, he told DNAinfo on Tuesday. He said other law enforcement officials have spoken with him about his comments on the matter, and that he believes he'll have to testify in the case. For that reason, he's been advised not to speak further about what happened in that Burger King on the night of the shooting.

This story has been updated to include comments from Craig Futterman.

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