The trial of former Detective David March and former Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney of the Chicago Police Department begins today. The men are charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and misconduct in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
They are the first Chicago officers to face criminal “code of silence” charges, and investigators believe the cover-up extends to ranking officers as well.
City Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended the firing of Deputy Chief David McNaughton and Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy, asserting that they were a part of an effort to justify the shooting. Both retired before any department decisions were made.
Prosecutors said former Lt. Anthony Wojcik and Sgt. Daniel Gallagher signed off on March’s paperwork, therefore making themselves co-conspirators.
Prosecutors allege the officers had a meeting at a South Side detective facility called Area Central and then filled out the police reports. They also note the identical language used in each report, including the “swinging knife” they claim McDonald used in the “battery.”
“Those factors are what occurs in every single major crime that occurs in this city,” Todd Pugh, a lawyer for Walsh, said. “And it occurs at every single police department in this state and this country. This is not evidence of an agreement. This is typical standard operating procedure of what occurs in the wake of a major crime.”
The video, which authorities sat on for over a year, shows that McDonald was not swinging a knife and was shot within seconds of officers arriving.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Brian Watson said at last month’s hearing that the trial will focus on “consistently false information that could not have been submitted except for an agreement to write consistently false information.”
Gallagher wrote to Wojcik that McDonald “chose his fate” and that VanDyke should be applauded for shooting McDonald, not second-guessed.
Officer Gaffney remains on administrative duty. March and Walsh resigned in 2016. Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in October, is awaiting sentencing in the Rock Island County Jail.
It won’t bring Laquan McDonald back but it’s a small step in the right direction.
The dash cam footage that proved McDonald was not a threat and that officers lied about McDonald attacking them helped convict Van Dyke and get a $5 million settlement.
Former Chicago Police Commander. Lorenzo Davis, who successfully sued Chicago for his firing because he wouldn’t change his findings of unjustified police shootings while working at the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, said before this case, “the average police officer did not fear submitting sloppy, incomplete reports — or false even.”
“It gives all police officers pause,” said Davis, “If officers are involved in a so-called code of silence, it might end their careers or even result in jail time.”
Watch here for coverage of the trial.
Reader Question: Do you think the officers defense of standard operating procedure will stand up in the trial