By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
A grand jury will hear evidence of a possible cover-up by several Chicago cops at the scene of the controversial police shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, an Illinois judge said Monday.
Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., the presiding judge of the Cook County Court’s criminal division, agreed to impanel the grand jury at the request of a special prosecutor investigating the actions of officers at the scene of the shooting death of the black teenager in October 2014. Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots at McDonald, who was holding a small knife.
The move to convene a grand jury, requested by special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, comes about two weeks after Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson moved to fire five police officers on the scene of the shooting for allegedly offering false statements about what happened.
Police dashcam video, made public in November by court order, touched off weeks of protests in Chicago. It shows that Van Dyke fired at McDonald within seconds of getting out of his squad car. But Van Dyke, who was charged with first-degree murder late last year, and several officers at the scene told investigators that McDonald ignored repeated calls from Van Dyke to drop the knife and had put the officers in danger.
In filing their recommendations to the Chicago Police Board — the agency in charge of the final determinations on the employment of the cops involved — Johnson and police department lawyers alleged that Van Dyke and fellow officers Stephen Franko, Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes knowingly made false or inaccurate statements backing up Van Dyke’s contention that he shot out of fear for his and his fellow officers lives.
Police pursued McDonald in response to reports that he had been breaking into trucks. The police dashcam video of the incident appears to show McDonald veering away from the officers when Van Dyke opened fire.
Three other officers who are among those whose statements have been questioned by the city’s inspector general have already retired from the police department. Van Dyke’s partner, officer Joseph Walsh, also recently resigned from the police department.
Walsh told investigators after the incident that he “backed up” as McDonald got to within 12 to 15 feet of the officers and “swung the knife toward the officers in an aggressive manner.” Walsh said he and Van Dyke repeatedly called on McDonald to drop the knife.
Brown Holmes was named a special prosecutor in July to investigate whether the actions of the officers merited criminal charges.