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Verdict delayed in police misconduct trial

Judge to give verdict January 15

Crusader Staff Report

Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson has delayed giving her verdict on the police misconduct trial involving three officers who are charged with conspiring to cover up details of the shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

At a hearing Wednesday, Stephenson set January 15, 2019 as the new date where she will announce the verdict, at 11 a.m.

After the trial ended December 6, Stephenson said she would give her verdict on Wed- nesday, December 19. On Monday, December 17 an email from the trial’s media coordinator said Stephenson would not give the verdict on the originally scheduled date. It’s not clear why Stephenson delayed the announcement of the verdict in the case.

Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and ex-Detective David March are accused of filing false police reports to exaggerate the threat posed by McDonald on the night then-officer Jason Van Dyke shot the 17-year-old 16 times.

Van Dyke was convicted of murder and will be sentenced January 18.

In the police misconduct case, March served as the lead investigator, who in a department probe, helped clear Van Dyke of wrongdoing. Walsh was next to Van Dyke as the shooting occurred and supported Van Dyke’s account that McDonald was moving towards them, contradicting the images on the police video. Gaffney and his partner were the first officers who confronted McDonald at 41st and Kildare. During that encounter, the teenager stabbed the tire and windshield of their police vehicle. When McDonald reach- ed 41st and S. Pulaski, Van Dyke and Walsh arrived on the scene and four seconds later, Van Dyke unleashed a hail of bullets that killed the teenager.

In her closing arguments, Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes raised the question of how Gaffney, Walsh and March ended up with the same facts and exact words that described the shooting on their police reports, despite the three being at separate locations. She opened her closing arguments with a reference to the dashboard camera video that shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014. She said the video contradicts key statements the three officers included in their reports.

In his nearly hour-long closing argument James McKay, who is March’s attorney, argued that his client conducted a thorough investigation that concluded Van Dyke was justified in shooting McDonald.

McKay pointed out a state law that allows police to use deadly force against a fleeing suspect, but his closing arguments aimed to shift the attention on McDonald’s behavior rather than the conspiracy charges and actions of the police officers in the case.

Tom Breen, Walsh’s attorney, argued that his client merely filed his reports and went home after he told what happened that night.

In a related case, the Chicago Police Board has set aside March 5 through 7 for hearings that will help them decide whether to fire four other officers who are accused of covering up the details of the shooting. They include Officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian, and Ricardo Viramontes, and Sergeant Stephen Franko. The officers allegedly gave or approved accounts of the shooting in police reports that were different than what police dash cam video shows.

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