Three police officers have been charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct for their roles in the cover up of the 2014 fatal shooting of Black teenager Laquan McDonald by a white police officer.
“These defendants lied about what occurred during a police-involved shooting in order to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said. “The indictment makes clear that it is unacceptable to obey an unofficial code of silence.”
Detective David March, a 30-year police veteran, and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney, both with the force for about 20 years, received the charges on Tuesday and will appear in court next month. Gaffney is the only one charged who is still on the force but is currently suspended without pay as a result of the pending felony charges.
Seventeen-year-old McDonald was shot and killed in October 2014 by Officer Jason Van Dyke. The officers provided false accounts of the events surrounding the shooting in order to make Van Dyke’s actions appear justified.
Van Dyke, identified as Individual A in the indictment, also provided a phony account of what happened the night he killed McDonald.
Parts of the report cited in the indictment include:
“When McDonald got to within 12 to 15 feet of the officers he swung the knife toward the officers in an aggressive manner”
“Van Dyke continued firing his weapon at McDonald as McDonald continued moving on the ground, attempting to get up, while still on the ground”
“McDonald ignored the verbal direction and instead, raised his right arm toward Officer Van Dyke, as if attacking Van Dyke”
“McDonald fell to the ground but continued to move, attempting to get back up, with the knife still in his hand”
The charges also note, “The recovered in-car camera video from Beats 845R and 813R was reviewed and found to be consistent with the accounts of all of the witnesses.”
The release of the video suggested otherwise and led to days of protests in the city of Chicago.
The video shows McDonald being shot while he was walking away from police — and continuing to be shot while already lying motionless on the ground. McDonald was shot 16 times.
The footage does not show McDonald advancing on police. Rather, Van Dyke began firing six seconds after leaving his police car and fired over a 14 to 15 second period — 13 seconds of which McDonald was already on the ground.
McDonald is seeing running, then walking in the street toward and away from several police cars. At one point, he veers away from two police officers who have their guns drawn and is standing more than 10 feet away when he appears to be hit, spins around, then falls to the ground, at which point his body continues to be hit with bullets, sending puffs of smoke into the air.
A police officer is then seen kicking an item out of McDonald’s hand, reportedly a three-inch knife that McDonald had been using to slash car tires.
“The shooting of Laquan McDonald forever changed the Chicago Police Department and I am committed to implementing policies and training to prevent an incident like this from happening again,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a statement. “Throughout this investigation, CPD has fully cooperated with prosecutors and will continue to do so. We will also continue to implement meaningful reforms that build community trust, provide greater training and resources to our dedicated officers, and make Chicago safer.”
Earlier this month civil rights groups including Black Lives Matter of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago, along with its police department. The lawsuit cites the city’s long, well-documented use of excessive force against minorities at the hands of the Chicago Police Department.
“Acting through the CPD, the City of Chicago promotes a culture of rampant brutality, especially against people of color,” the lawsuit states.
A lengthy report from the Department of Justice, released in January, found that Chicago police officers routinely violate the civil rights of its residents, with excessive force falling “heaviest on Black and Latino communities.”
The Justice Department found “a pattern or practice of unreasonable force” as a result of “deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems.” The investigation raised “serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and accountability.”