Historic trial ends after intense closing arguments
Crusader Staff Report
Three police officers charged with conspiring to cover up the Laquan McDonald will learn their fate on December 19 when a Cook County judge will deliver a verdict in an unprecedented case that has put in the spotlight the Chicago Police Department’s notorious code of silence.
Judge Domenica Stephenson announced the date on Thursday, December 6 shortly after the police misconduct trial involving Officers Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh and Detective David March ended at the Leighton Criminal Courts building.
The three are accused of filing false police reports and conspiring to cover up the murder of 17-year old McDonald, who was shot 16 times by convicted murderer Officer Jason Van Dyke four years ago.
In that 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 on 41st and Kildare. During that encounter, the teenager stabbed the tire and windshield of their police vehicle. When McDonald reached 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.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder October 5. It was the first time in 50 years that an on-duty officer in Chicago was found guilty in a police shooting. Van Dyke has been in jail since his conviction.
Two months after that verdict, the police misconduct trial remains another historic case. It’s the first time, CPD officers have faced criminal charges for operating under the department’s “code of silence.” The officers have been charged with official misconduct, obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
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 on Oct. 20, 2014. She said the video contradicts key statements the three officers included in their reports.
“This case is about public trust,” said Holmes, a former federal prosecutor and Cook County judge. “It boils down to what the defendant wrote on paper in black and white versus what’s on video.”
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 clients merely filed his reports and went home after he told what happened that night.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Ron Safer said that the “adrenaline” had faded by the time the officers got together and filed their reports.
“This case is not about the decision to shoot,” Safer said. “This case is about what these defendants did in the calm, cool reflective atmosphere of their offices, and how they got their stories together and conspired to obstruct justice.”