Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October of 2014 and a jury determined it was second-degree murder. The jury also found Van Dyke guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm — one count for every one of Van Dyke’s bullets that struck the young man, many as he lay prone and motionless on the ground.
One can argue that Van Dyke was in fear for his life. Indeed, McDonald was a career juvenile offender and headed to jail — or worse — before too much longer. But the jury concluded that Van Dyke should have tried to arrest McDonald, who was armed with only a small knife, not gun him down in the street.
It’s this kind of second guessing of Van Dyke’s actions that has so disturbed Chicago police and law enforcement around the country. They fear — rightly or wrongly — that any decision they make to draw and use a weapon will put them through the same excruciating ordeal that Van Dyke was forced to endure.
But what sets this incident apart is the concerted, organized effort to cover up what happened that night in 2014 by both the police department and political leaders.
A previously confidential filing which was unsealed Thursday alleges an elaborate scheme by Chicago Police officers to cover up the truth of the Laquan McDonald shooting.
The filing, which is a de-facto roadmap of the case to be brought by Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, alleges officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh, and Detective David March, intentionally distorted the true facts of the McDonald shooting, portraying the teenager as a greater threat than he had been, in order to shield their fellow officer Jason Van Dyke from criminal investigation and prosecution.
The document, known as a proffer, alleges the officers created false or misleading police reports in the hours and days after the killing, in an effort to distort the official narrative in Van Dyke’s favor.
“The evidence will show that the defendants submitted virtually identical false information,” the filing states, “including that Laquan McDonald had battered, assaulted, and attacked Officer Individual A (Van Dyke), defendant Walsh, and defendant Gaffney.”
Van Dyke and the conspirators may very well have gotten away clean except for one detail: a grainy dash cam video of the incident that made a liar out of all of them.
The document references the infamous police dash cam video of the shooting, as well as a surveillance video from a nearby Durkin Donuts. “In the video, Laquan McDonald does not batter, attack, or assault three Chicago Police Officers,” it states. Nevertheless, the officers allegedly prepared a false original case report, charging that Van Dyke “was injured by offender”, and that Van Dyke, Walsh, and Gaffney were “victims”.
Prosecutors also allege that the officers prepared three virtually identical Police Department Officer’s Battery Reports. Each of the reports stated, “NO. OF OFFICERS BATTERED 3,” and “MANNER OF ATTACK: STABBED/CUT (INCLUDING ACTUAL ATTEMPT).”
The officers’ reports allegedly included false information that McDonald continued aggressive moments toward Van Dyke, even after being hit by the initial volleys of gunfire.
“McDonald continued moving on the ground, attempting to get up, while still armed with a knife,” a statement attributed to Walsh said. The video completely contradicts that report.
Based on those reports and others, the department originally ruled the shooting was justified. But once the existence of the dash cam video became known, a court battle ensued to expose it. For 13 months, the city fathers sat on this video, knowing that releasing it would lead to violence in the streets. They also knew that the police could continue to claim McDonald’s shooting was justified.
Emails from the mayor’s office show there was a coordinated effort to craft “a ‘unified message’ on how to respond to media inquiries regarding the McDonald shooting. The emails included several highly redacted speech drafts to use if the video was released, prepared nearly a year before the release of the dash-cam video, which Emanuel’s top aides knew existed.”
The result of all this has been a consent agreement signed by the mayor and Illinois prosecutors to radically change the way the police department protects the citizens of the city. It almost certainly won’t make the city any safer. But it will protect the precious buttocks of police officials and politicians who sought to cover up the murder of a Chicago teenager.