CHICAGO—Three Chicago police officers were indicted Tuesday on felony charges of covering up what happened during the fatal shooting of a black teenager by Police Officer
Jason Van Dyke
Mr. Van Dyke’s partner that night, and
were each charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, said Patricia Brown Holmes, the special prosecutor in the case.
She was appointed last year to consider charges against officers who may have lied to protect Mr. Van Dyke, who fatally shot
16 times. A grand jury had voted on the three-count indictment Monday.
“The indictment makes it clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’ rather it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” Ms. Holmes said.
According to court documents, Detective March and Officers Walsh and Gaffney conspired to “conceal the true facts of events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald…to shield their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution.”
They “lied about what occurred and mischaracterized the video recordings” of the shooting to keep the video from investigators and the public, the document added, and the officers created police forms “that contained important false information.”
Officer Van Dyke, who is white, shot Mr. McDonald 16 times in October 2014 after officers responded to reports of a man breaking into vehicles. The officer has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges.
A police dashboard camera video, was released more than a year later after a court order. It showed a dramatically different account of the shooting than was described by officers.
A police report said Mr. McDonald had swung a knife at officers “in an aggressive manner” and that Officer Van Dyke continued firing because Mr. McDonald was attempting to get up and was still armed, according to court documents.
The video, however, shows Mr. McDonald veering away from officers before he was shot, while holding a small knife at his side. When shot, Mr. McDonald immediately dropped to the ground.
The indictment alleges the officers failed to locate, interview or identify witnesses whose information would contradict accounts of Chicago police.
Lawyers for the three officers could not be immediately reached Tuesday. Only Officer Gaffney is still with the Chicago police, a department spokesman said, and he will be suspended per department policy.
The officers could each be facing up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The shooting and the alleged coverup, including the lengthy delay in releasing the video, led to widespread protests in Chicago and fallout within the police department. A new superintendent recommended that several officers be fired for allegedly lying over the incident.
“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,” said Chicago Police Superintendent
“Throughout this investigation, CPD has fully cooperated with prosecutors and will continue to do so.”
The police department was also investigated by the Justice Department, which found a systemic practice of excessive force, particularly against minorities.
Ms. Holmes, the special prosecutor, added that the grand jury investigation is continuing. A spokesman for Ms. Holmes declined to comment on whether more officers might be charged.
The police union said Tuesday they had not yet reviewed the indictment and “do not comment on an ongoing investigation.”
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