A special grand jury indicted three Chicago police officers on several felony charges Tuesday, alleging they lied to cover up the police killing of Laquan McDonald in 2014.
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes announced at a press conference that Detective David March and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney are being charged with obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.
The grand jury, composed of 16 jurors and 10 alternates, has been working since late last year to determine whether officers lied to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who killed McDonald after shooting him 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014.
“This indictment alleges that these defendants lied about what occurred during a police involved shooting in order to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” Holmes said. “The indictment makes clear that it is unacceptable to obey an unofficial code of silence.”
Police reports filed by officers at the scene noted that McDonald had a knife, and that Van Dyke feared for his life. The reports say the 17-year-old “swung the knife toward the officers in an aggressive manner” and that McDonald was “attacking Van Dyke with the knife” before Van Dyke opened fire “in defense of his life.” Yet, a dash cam video of the shooting shows Van Dyke opening fire as McDonald walked away from officers. Citing the indictment, Holmes said the three officers charged Tuesday lied in those reports.
“The indictment alleges that they failed to interview specific witnesses, that they lied or provided false or misleading … or mischaracterized information on official forms, and that they failed to complete the investigation of the incident in a manner that would reveal the truth,” Holmes said.
Holmes said the investigation continues, but wouldn’t say whether other people are expected to be charged.
“Investigating and charging police officers with crimes relating to their duties is a sobering responsibility,” she said. “It’s important to recognize that there are thousands upon thousands of honest, dedicated, and hard working police who put their personal safety at risk and make sacrifices every day to help and assist others, and to make our community safe.”
Some lawyers called the move unprecedented. Those who pushed for a special prosecutor praised the charges, but said it didn’t go far enough.
“The indictment may not go high enough as it stands right now,” G. Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office told the Chicago Tribune. “But it certainly is a historic and significant event in terms of criminally charging police officers who engage in a code of silence.”
Holmes said the officers are expected to appear in court voluntarily on July 10. If convicted, they could be sentenced to up to three to five years and $25,000 for each count.
“The investigation in this matter continues,” Holmes said. “We will follow all roads where they lead. We will seek the truth.”