Chicago mayor cutting short Cuba vacation after police shooting

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[December 29, 2015]  By Justin Madden and Dave McKinney
 CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided to come home early from his vacation in Cuba to address the fatal shooting of two more black residents by a city police department already under federal investigation over its use of deadly force.

"He is cutting his family trip short so that he can continue the ongoing work of restoring accountability and trust in the Chicago Police Department," Emanuel spokeswoman Kelley Quinn said on Monday.

She said the mayor would return on Tuesday instead of Saturday. His vacation began on Dec. 18.

The mayor on his return will face renewed protests over police shootings after Bettie Jones, 55, and college student Quintonio LeGrier, 19, were killed early on Saturday. Police said Jones was killed by accident during the altercation with LeGrier.

The fatal police shootings on Saturday were the first in America's third most populous city since it released a video in late November showing an October 2014 police shooting of a black teen that belied the official account he had lunged at police with a knife.

LeGrier's father has said his son had mental health issues and that he called the police early in the morning because his son had threatened him with a metal baseball bat.

Chicago police said LeGrier was being combative. It offered condolences in the shooting of Jones, who lived on the first floor of the building.

High-profile killings of black men by police officers since mid-2014 have triggered waves of protest across the country and fueled a civil rights movement under the name Black Lives Matter.

In Cleveland on Monday, a grand jury cleared two Cleveland police officers in the November 2014 fatal shooting of a 12-year-old African-American boy who was brandishing a toy gun in a park.

The latest shootings in Chicago have raised questions about police training for handling distraught or mentally ill people and the mayor has called for improved response in such cases.

However, recordings of conversations between dispatchers and police officers published by the Chicago Tribune on Monday do not refer to mental illness. It's not clear whether there was additional radio traffic.

A protest focusing on police issues and a call for Emanuel to resign is planned at City Hall on Thursday.

Illinois Democratic state Representative La Shawn Ford, who is pushing legislation to permit a mayoral recall, said the main question was how the mayor intends to rebuild trust between Chicago residents and what critics regard as a trigger-happy police force.

"He should be at every police district, meeting with every officer in this city and letting them know where he stands on brutality and misconduct by the police," said Ford.

Emanuel, previously President Barack Obama's White House chief of staff, became Chicago's mayor in 2011 and was re-elected earlier this year. He was already facing pressure over high crime and gang violence in parts of the city.

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An attorney for LeGrier's father, Antonio LeGrier, said he had filed a wrongful death lawsuit and false arrest claim against the city of Chicago for the shooting and the detaining of the father afterward.

"It's not about money," the lawyer, Basileios Foutris, told Reuters. "It's about seeking a measure of justice for an unjustified killing of a 19-year-old college student. It's about the family finding out what happened, and why it happened and getting answers to why this senseless shooting occurred."

Foutris said the father ran downstairs after he heard the gunshots, and saw his son lying in the doorway bleeding.

He saw a police officer who was "acting as if he knew that what he had done was wrong," Foutris said.

Quintonio's father had called 911 at 4:25 a.m. on Saturday, according to the Chicago Tribune, citing computer notes taken by operators at the emergency call center.

"The male caller said someone is threatening his life. It's also coming in as a domestic. The 19-year-old son banging on his bedroom door with a baseball bat," is what the dispatcher told the officers sent to the scene, according to the tape released so far to the Chicago Tribune.

Reuters has requested audio and video recordings from the incident, but police have not responded yet to the request.

Attorney Larry Rogers Jr., representing the family of Jones, the woman who was killed, said he was seeking possible witnesses and video and audio recordings of the shooting, including from security cameras on nearby homes.

It's not clear whether there is any video footage of the shootings.

Protests over the shooting of Laquan McDonald - the teenager killed in October 2014 in the recently released video - led to the resignation of the city's police chief and the start of a U.S. Department of Justice probe into whether the city's police use lethal force too often, especially against minorities.

(Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bill Rigby, Peter Cooney and Michael Perry)

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