Special prosecutor opens first week of police misconduct trial
Crusader Staff Report
Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said three Chicago police officers worked to create lies that were designed to help Officer Jason Van Dyke avoid the consequences of his actions.
Holmes made the statement on Tuesday, November 27, during her opening arguments of the trial of Joseph Walsh, Thomas Gaffney and David Marsh. The three Chicago Police Officers appeared in courtroom 204 at the Leighton Criminal Courts building, before Associate Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson.
The officers are accused of falsifying police reports and conspiring to cover up the murder of 17-year old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by Van Dyke in 2014. A police dash cam video of the shooting contradicted statements Van Dyke and his fellow officers gave after McDonald was murdered.
Van Dyke was convicted of second degree murder in October and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in October. He remains in jail and his sentencing will be on December 14.
Van Dyke was the first on-duty officer in 50 years to be convicted. However, he was acquitted on the charge of police misconduct. That left Black leaders and activists puzzled but motivated to attend the first day of the trial of the three officers, hoping that decades of police misconduct will finally be validated by a conviction in a justice system that favors law enforcement officials.
While Van Dyke was convicted by a jury, Tuesday’s proceedings were part of a bench trial, where Judge Stephenson will decide the fate of the officers rather than a jury.
All three offices in the trial have separate attorneys, who gave their own opening statements.
The first day of the trial seemed like a sequel to Van Dyke’s trial that took place just three floors above, last month. In her opening statement, Holmes promised to bring on several witnesses who testified during Van Dyke’s trial. She called the case “straightforward and concise.”
“It boils down to what the defendants wrote on paper versus what is shown on video,” Holmes said. She said “those who are sworn to tell the truth” began to create a false narrative to justify killing McDonald.
In his opening statement, James McKay, the defense lawyer for March said, It’s about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night. There must be some individual responsibility attached to McDonald. “
March reminded Judge Stephenson that McDonald attracted police after a 911 call from truck driver Rudy Barillas, who testified in the Van Dyke trial that McDonald pulled out a knife and tried to stab him.
“That your honor, is an attempted murder,” McKay said. “That your honor, is aggravated assault. Those two crimes are violent.”
Those arguments aimed to shift attention from March and the other officers, who remained stoic during the proceedings.
Tuesday’s first witness was Joseph Perfetti, the director of the Chicago Police Department’s records division. Perfetti read from several reports filed by March, Gaffney and Van Dyke alleging that McDonald was the aggressor and Van Dyke was in fear for his life.
In one report submitted by March, Gaffney, Walsh and Van Dyke are listed as the victims and McDonald as the offender.
Under cross examination, Defense Attorney McKay questioned Perfetti about inventory slips that documented key video recordings that were taken that night from police cars, a Burger King, A Dunkin’ Donuts and the Greater Food Depository. As he read each slip McKay asked Perfetti to name the officer responsible for preserving the evidence. Perfetti replied “David March.”
During another cross-examination, McKay attacked Cook County Medical Examiner Investigator Earl Briggs, who said that March called him an hour after the shooting saying McDonald “lunged at the officer with a knife,” which contradicts a police video showing McDonald walking away from Van Dyke.
McKay grilled Briggs and noted that Briggs sometimes put words in quotation marks to show a direct quote. McKay noted that Briggs did not put “lunged” in quotation marks. Briggs stood by his testimony that March used the word “lunged.”
Gaffney along with his partner Joseph McElligott, confronted McDonald near 40th street and Kildare. While McElligott followed the teenager, Gaffney followed the two while driving in his police car. McDonald punctured one of the tires and slashed the windshield with a knife.
In his opening statements, Officer Gaffney’s attorney, William Fahy, said McDonald raised his knife and looked at his client as he smashed the knife on the windshield. That’s when Gaffney readied himself to use lethal force. And he made a split-second decision not to use force.
That statement seemed to contradict what prosecutors wrote in court filings after Gaffney’s testimony to a grand jury.
“Gaffney never personally felt at risk of death or serious bodily injury from Laquan McDonald ‘pretty much because I was still in my car’ and I had my vehicles to protect me,” prosecutors wrote in court filings.
Todd Pugh, the defense attorney for Walsh, said his client filled out two reports after McDonald was shot and “that absolutely ended Joe Walsh’s involvement in this case.”
.Pugh also said Walsh “had no other responsibility other than to go home and get up the next day.”