Three Chicago police officers have been indicted on state charges of conspiracy, obstruction, and misconduct for allegedly writing false reports in order to justify the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. A fourth officer was charged with murder in November 2015 after police dash cam footage revealed him shooting the teen 16 times as McDonald appeared to be walking away.
Nearly surrounded by officers and suspected of breaking into cars on October 20, 2014, McDonald was attempting to walk away from a group of Chicago cops when Officer Jason Van Dyke exited his patrol car. According to initial reports, McDonald was armed with a knife and lunged at Officer Van Dyke. Fearing for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, Van Dyke shot the teen in the chest out of self-defense.
But according to witness statements and police dash cam video, McDonald had been walking away when Van Dyke took a step towards the teen before opening fire. After McDonald collapsed to the ground in a fetal position, Van Dyke continued firing his weapon until emptying his clip. As Van Dyke began reloading his gun, a fellow officer ordered him to cease firing at the dying teen.
On Tuesday, Detective David March, Officer Thomas Gaffney, and Van Dyke’s former partner, Joseph Walsh, were indicted on state charges of conspiracy, obstruction, and misconduct for allegedly writing false police reports and refusing to interview at least three key witnesses in an attempt to justify McDonald’s death. According to the indictment, the officers conspired with someone identified as Individual A to write false reports accusing McDonald of slashing the tire of a patrol car and committing battery against them in the moments before the shooting.
“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’ rather it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said in a news release.
Several months after Van Dyke was arrested for murder, Walsh resigned from the department. According to the indictment, Gaffney and Walsh filed false police reports accusing McDonald of violent crimes that the dash cam video clearly refuted, while March conspired with them to justify the shooting by preparing their false reports as lead detective on the case.
All three former and current police officers are scheduled for arraignment on July 10 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
Before McDonald’s family could even file a lawsuit, the city gave them a $5 million settlement on the condition that the family agreed not to publicly release the dash cam footage of the teen’s death. After suppressing the video for 13 months, the city received a court order to release the footage, which immediately resulted in Van Dyke’s arrest for murder.