By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
As three Chicago Police officers pleaded not guilty July 10 to falsifying police reports in the murder case of Laquan McDonald, activists who want justice for the teen victim plan on being at every court hearing until the case is concluded. With big shot defense attorneys and a controversial judge, activists aren’t taking any chances in part two of the most closely-watched police trial in Chicago and perhaps the entire nation. As the case involving Jason Van Dyke heads into its 13th month, the guilty pleas from three officers who are accused of covering up Van Dyke’s alleged crime have set the stage for a separate pre-trial that has given activists on edge another reason to follow the proceedings like hardcore watchdogs.
A Cook County judge ordered Officers Joseph Walsh, lead investigator; David March and Det. Thomas Gaffney held on $50,000 recognizance bonds. All three are accused of lying in written and oral statements that contradicted video evidence in the murder of McDonald that took place in October of 2014. Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times resulting in his death, has already been charged with first degree murder. All three pleaded not guilty to the charges and will appear in court again for discovery hearings on Aug. 29.
Community activist William Calloway, who played a large role in forcing video of the murder to be released to the public, commended the grand jury and special prosecutor Patricia Holmes for the indictment. But he also would like to see the investigation expanded into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to see if there was a conspiracy to keep the video out of the public eye until after the April 2015 runoff mayoral election.
“I think the public has a right to know if there was an attempt to intentionally conceal this video on the part of the Mayor,” Calloway said. “That would fall under obstruction of justice, according to Illinois statute. As far as today’s indictments, there was no gray area in this case. What these three officers did was wrong and they need to be held accountable.”
Questions also remain about the judge who is presiding over the case involving the three officers. Officials said Judge Diane Cannon was appointed by random computer assignment to oversee the high-profile case. The judge before her, Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan recused herself without giving an explanation. According to one news report, Cannon is generally viewed by courthouse veterans as being pro-prosecution and pro-police.
Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church, said the McDonald case, along with the killings of Rekia Boyd by former Chicago Detective Dante Servin and the Philando Castile case in Minnesota last year all destroy trust between the community and police. Pfleger said law enforcement nationwide has to stop covering up for bad officers because it only makes the public and the officers themselves less safe.
“We know the justice system is a long process and sometimes not an above board process,” Pflger told the media. “We’re here to make sure that it is above board and to make sure justice is carried out. Until people, in particular police officers who do wrong are held accountable and arrested and put in jail…until that happens there will be no trust amongst the community and law enforcement.”
An attorney for one of the defendants spoke to the media after his client was arraigned. The special grand jury returned a three count indictment against all three defendants. They have been charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. The defendants are accused of claiming McDonald was aggressively swinging a knife at Van Dyke at the time he opened fire. Walsh was Van Dyke’s partner and was standing a few feet away from the incident but never fired his own weapon. The officers also reported that McDonald tried to get up off the ground and attack them after he was shot. The video showed McDonald never attempted to get off the ground after the initial shots from Van Dyke and the weapon fell from his hands before his body hit the ground.
Walsh’s attorney, Tom Breen, addressed the media after the hearing. He acknowledged there is a great deal of emotion and public interest in the case, along with some politics. But at this time his client is ready for his day in court.
“All we’re hoping for at the end of the day is that we receive a fair hearing,” Breen said. If found guilty, the defendants could face up to five years in prison. All of the charges against them are felonies. If convicted they also could be sued in civil court, in addition to being fired from the department. None of the other defendants or their attorneys spoke to the media after the hearing.