In the latest chapter of the Laquan McDonald saga – which has already ended the career for a police superintendent in Chicago, saw an officer charged with murder, contributed to the decision of the mayor not to seek re-election, and exposed the police department to calls for soaring reforms – three officers went on trial Tuesday for conspiring to create a false narrative of the night the 17-year-old was shot sixteen times.
Former Detective David March, former officer Joseph Walsh, and officer Thomas Gaffney, are accused of covering up details of the 2014 shooting and conspiring to draw up false reports of the incident.
Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was later convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery was captured on dash-cam video shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times on the city’s Southwest Side.
“This case is about violating the public trust,” special prosecutor Patrica Brown Holmes told judge Domenica Stephenson, who is hearing the case in a bench trial. “Defendant Walsh, March, and Gaffney each knowingly gave false information – and they conspired with others known, and unknown, to do so.”
The case is seen as a case study into allegations of the alleged “code of silence” which critics say permeates the Chicago Police Department.
“The reward for telling the truth,” Brown-Holmes declared, “was to be called a rat.”
But defense attorney James McKay fired back, suggesting McDonald’s violent actions that night had been sanitized in the ensuing controversy over his shooting.
“Counsel says Laquan McDonald committed nonviolent crimes,” McKay thundered. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
McKay alleged that McDonald did in fact physically threaten the officers with his knife that night and that such reports were accurate.
“For the love of God,” he shouted. “McDonald never drops that damn knife, he never heeds any police commands that night.”
Contrary to the lengthy murder trial of Van Dyke in the high-profile case, this case is expected to last less than two weeks.
Walsh and March are no longer on the force, while Gaffney has been suspended and remains on desk duty.