Three police officers were indicted on Tuesday on state felony charges of conspiracy to cover up the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot by a Chicago police officer three years ago.
From CBS Chicago:
Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said Det. David March and patrol officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney have been charged with conspiracy, official misconduct, and obstruction of justice. The three allegedly conspired to try to “prevent or shape” an independent probe of McDonald’s shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, at the hands of Officer Jason Van Dyke.
In a prepared statement, Holmes said,
“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.”
Video released in 2015 showed officer Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen was walking away.
Warning: Graphic footage
Van Dyke, who was charged with 6 counts of first-degree murder in December 2015, has pleaded not guilty and said he feared for his life, which is a confusing – and shockingly absurd – claim for him to make, considering the footage above shows McDonald was walking away from the police when he was gunned down.
According to the indictment, shortly after the shooting, the three officers conspired “to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald … to shield their fellow officer (identified only as Individual A) from criminal investigation and prosecution.”
“The defendants allegedly lied about what occurred and mischaracterized the video recordings so that independent criminal investigators would not learn the truth about the killing and the public would not see the video recordings,” Holmes’ office said.
More from CBS Chicago:
The officers are accused of conspiring to protect each other and other officers by falsifying police reports to portray Van Dyke and themselves as victims of an assault by McDonald, and ignoring any information or evidence that contradicted their story.
According to the official police report of the shooting, Walsh said McDonald had advanced at Van Dyke, and was swinging a knife in an “aggressive manner” and “was attacking Van Dyke…with knife attempting to kill (him).”
However, that statement is contradicted by dashcam video of the shooting, which shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald just seconds after getting out of his squad car, while McDonald is walking away from him. The video does not show McDonald swinging the knife at Van Dyke.
Gaffney, whose cruiser’s tire was slashed by McDonald, said he heard the shots, but did not see who shot McDonald, according to the report.
The indictment also alleges that the conspiracy included an effort not to try to locate and interview three witnesses whose accounts of what happened were not consistent with the police version of events.
March and Walsh have already resigned from the force. Gaffney will now be suspended without pay, as is customary for officers under felony indictment, a department spokesman said.
If convicted, the men could face years in prison. The official misconduct charge alone carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $25,000 fine, reports CBS. All three cops are expected to show up voluntarily for their July 10 arraignment, according to NBC.
Meanwhile, Van Dyke is waiting to go to trial. If convicted of first-degree murder, Van Dyke faces a prison sentence of 20 years to life. The case marks the first time in nearly 35 years that a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality, reports the Chicago Tribune.
Holmes is not the only one slamming the officers with charges: Alma Benitez, a witness to the killing, has filed a federal lawsuit against more than 40 officers. She claims she was pressured to retract her statement that the shooting was not justified.
The night of the shooting, Benitez told reporters, “They didn’t need to shoot him. They didn’t. They basically had him face-to-face. There was no purpose why they had to shoot him.”
In her lawsuit, Benitez says she tried to take pictures and video of the shooting scene on her cell phone, and several of the officers demanded she surrender her device. She also claims they later took her into custody and illegally detained her for about six hours – without telling her she had the right to leave at any time.
Benitez alleges officers repeatedly told her what she saw was “not really what happened,” and that video of the shooting contradicted what she saw.
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