ShareThis Page
Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up | TribLIVE.com
U.S./World

Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

The Associated Press
| Thursday, January 17, 2019 4:01 p.m
649396_web1_649396-44d7c3a0e05f44089664f0861d9363b0
649396_web1_649396-e3f60b9a0e954472ab7c57cd5990d435
649396_web1_AP19017735269956
Chicago Police officer Joseph Walsh, left, former detective David March and former officer Thomas Gaffney, accused of trying to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, during a bench trial before Judge Domenica A. Stephenson at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. Judge Domenica Stephenson said Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, that after considering all of the evidence, including police dashcam video of the killing, she did not find that officer Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh and David March conspired to cover up the shooting.

CHICAGO — A judge on Thursday acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald to protect the white officer seen pulling the trigger on dashcam video that showed the black teen getting hit with 16 bullets.

In rejecting the prosecution’s entire case, Judge Domenica Stephenson seemed to accept many of the same defense arguments that were rejected by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted in October of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.

The judge said there was no indication that officers tried to hide evidence.

“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.

McDonald’s family immediately questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions. His great uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal.”

“To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty.” He also said “it is a sad day for America.”

The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department that has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality and misconduct.

Officer Joseph Walsh, officer Thomas Gaffney and detective David March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department.

Both trials hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street and barely moving. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.

Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, submitted false reports about what really happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that McDonald ignored verbal commands from Van Dyke, that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung a knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.

McDonald did have a small knife that he had used to puncture a tire on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.

“The case is clear. The case is straightforward, and it is concise,” Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes told the judge during opening statements. “It boils down to what the defendants wrote on paper versus what is shown on video.”

When later summarizing her case, Holmes urged Stephenson to hold the officers accountable and to provide some measure of justice to the slain teen.

McDonald “was a human being. He deserved due process in the law and not to have police officers write false reports and shape a false narrative,” Holmes said.

The attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defense used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.

It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw,” March’s attorney, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”

The lawyers ridiculed the decision to charge the three officers, saying they merely wrote what they observed or, in March’s case, what the other officers told him they saw. And they said there was no evidence that the officers conspired to get their stories straight.

“The state wants you to criminalize police reports,” McKay bellowed at one point.

The McDonald shooting sparked large protests and led to major changes to Chicago’s policing. City Hall only released the video to the public in November 2015 — 13 months after the shooting — because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.

The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also stunning because it led to charges not only against Van Dyke, but against the three officers accused of covering for each other as part of a “code of silence” that until recent years city officials adamantly denied even existed.

At the same time, the case triggered a federal investigation that resulted in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and implemented a host of other reforms to change the way they investigate officer-involved shootings.

Categories: News | World
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.