3 officers charged in Laquan McDonald case to opt for bench trial

Lawyers for the LEOs said they plan for a Cook County judge to decide the officers’ fate, not a jury


By Megan Crepeau
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Lawyers for three Chicago police officers charged with impeding an investigation into the fatal police shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald said Thursday they plan for a Cook County judge to decide the officers’ fate, not a jury.

Judge Domenica Stephenson set the trial tentatively for July 10.

Chicago Policer Officer Thomas Gaffney leaves court to get fingerprinted on Monday July 10, 2017. Three Chicago police officers who were indicted for covering up the facts in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago, Ill. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Chicago Policer Officer Thomas Gaffney leaves court to get fingerprinted on Monday July 10, 2017. Three Chicago police officers who were indicted for covering up the facts in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago, Ill. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The charges against former Detective David March, ex-Officer Joseph Walsh and Officer Thomas Gaffney allege that the three officers lied to exaggerate the threat posed by 17-year-old McDonald, who had PCP in his system and had damaged a police car while armed with a knife.

The video showed Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shooting McDonald 16 times as the black teen walked away from police.

Van Dyke, who separately faces first-degree murder charges, and other officers had alleged that McDonald lunged at him with the knife.

The special prosecutors appointed to handle the case told Stephenson on Thursday that they anticipate the trial for all three will take less than a week. They face charges of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.

Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is presiding over Van Dyke’s case, said last month that he wants that trial to take place this summer, but no date has been publicly set.

By contrast, even though the charges date to November 2015, Van Dyke’s lawyers have yet to disclose whether the suspended officer will let the judge or a jury decide his fate.

The court-ordered release of the shooting video sparked widespread protests, the firing of Chicago’s police superintendent and a damning report of police practices by the U.S. Department of Justice.

A special prosecution team led by former Judge Patricia Brown Holmes was appointed in 2016 to investigate the conduct of other officers at the shooting scene, including whether department higher-ups assisted in an alleged cover-up.

The grand jury convened to investigate those allegations, however, disbanded in November without charging any department supervisors, to the disappointment of local activists.

March was the lead detective in the shooting’s probe; Walsh was Van Dyke’s partner on the night of the shooting; and Gaffney was among the first officers on the scene. All were charged in June and have pleaded not guilty.

March and Walsh left the department after city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended their firing following his investigation of the shooting. Gaffney, still with the department when the indictment came down, was suspended without pay.

©2018 Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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