The murder of Laquan McDonald took place on October 20, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois, when the 17-year-old African American was fatally shot by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. McDonald was reported to have been behaving erratically while walking down the street, and holding a folding knife with a three-inch (7.5 cm) blade. Initially, internal police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified and Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time.
When the police released a dash cam video of the shooting thirteen months later, on November 24, 2015, it showed McDonald had been walking away from the police when he was shot. That same day Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and initially held without bail at the Cook County Jail. He was released on bail on November 30. The city reached a settlement with McDonald's family. On October 5, 2018, Van Dyke was found guilty at trial of second-degree murder, as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
From [NYT] Three white Chicago police officers were acquitted on Thursday of charges that they had conspired and lied to protect a white police officer who fired 16 deadly shots into a black teenager, a contentious verdict in a case over what many viewed as a “code of silence” in the Police Department.
The judgment, rendered in a tense, cramped courtroom overflowing with spectators, was delivered by a judge and not a jury. Speaking from the bench for close to an hour, Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson rejected the prosecutors’ arguments that the officers had shooed away witnesses and then created a narrative to justify the 2014 shooting, which prompted citywide protests, the firing of the police chief and a wide-ranging federal investigation into the police force.
ALL WHITE TRIER OF FACT. Stephenson is also white. She was the 3rd judge assigned to this case. The case was initially given to Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan [also white], who recused herself without explanation.
Brosnahan appears to have stepped aside because her husband, Kriston Kato, a onetime controversial Chicago police detective, was dispatched to the scene of McDonald's shooting that night as a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police union. Documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune show Kato told investigators with the city inspector general's office in 2016 that he spoke with both Van Dyke and Walsh.
After Brosnahan stepped aside last week, Judge Diane Gordon Cannon was assigned to preside over the case. Cannon [also white] is perhaps best known for her 2015 acquittal of then-Chicago police Cmdr. Glenn Evans on charges he shoved his gun down Rickey Williams' throat and threatened to kill him. In throwing out all charges, Cannon belittled evidence of Williams' DNA on Evans' service weapon as "of fleeting relevance or significance." At a routine hearing Tuesday, Cannon granted prosecutors' request for a new judge in the alleged cover-up case involving the three officers. [MORE]
The ruling came more than three months after Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted in October of the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald, and on the afternoon before he was scheduled to be sentenced for a killing that was captured on an infamous police dashboard camera video.
The three police officers — David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney — contradicted what the video showed. In it, Mr. Van Dyke fires repeatedly at Laquan, who is wielding a knife, as he moves slightly away from the officers and even as he lies crumpled on the ground. Prosecutors cited that footage repeatedly as they built a case against the officers, who are white, on charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.
There was also a security camera at a nearby Burger King restaurant that may have captured the shooting, but during the time of the shooting there is a gap of 86 minutes in the recording. The manager of the restaurant said that on the night of the shooting, five Chicago police officers gained access to the video and passwords on the equipment, and that by the time the Independent Police Review Authority requested to view the footage the next day, it had been erased. The Tribune later obtained footage showing a Chicago police employee working on the restaurant's computers after the shooting. However, according to FBI sources, the video taken from the Burger King surveillance camera was not altered, and there were gaps throughout the surveillance video because the system at Burger King was a "mess." [want to buy a bridge?]
Judge Stephenson said that even though the officers’ accounts of the shooting differed from the video, that did not amount to proof that they were lying. “Two people with two different vantage points can witness the same event,” she said, and still describe it differently.
The judge suggested that key witnesses for the prosecution had offered conflicting testimony, and said there was nothing presented at trial that showed that the officers had failed to preserve evidence, as the prosecutors had argued. Challenging the point that officers had shooed away a witness as part of a cover-up, the judge said it was not obvious that the police had known the witness had seen the shooting.
The officers, who were brought to trial in November, were accused of writing in official reports that Laquan had tried to stab three other officers, saying they saw him trying to get up from the ground even after a barrage of shots. The white cops backed up Officer Van Dyke’s account that Mr. McDonald had moved menacingly toward him with a knife and swung the weapon. The dashboard video contradicted those accounts, and showed Mr. McDonald, who was clutching a knife, seeming to veer away from the police when Officer Van Dyke began firing his weapon. The shooting continued as Mr. McDonald lay crumpled on the street. [MORE]
The initial police portrayals of the incident, consisting of about 400 pages of typed and handwritten reports, prompted police supervisors to rule the case a justifiable homicide and within the bounds of the department's use of force guidelines. The reports did not say how many times McDonald was shot and said McDonald was acting "crazed" and lunged at officers after refusing to drop his knife. Michael D. Robbins, one of the attorneys representing the McDonald estate, said his initial thoughts were that "I didn't think there was a case if he had lunged at a police officer," adding, "The police narrative, without exception, is that the use of force is justified and necessary, which it sometimes is."
One police report described that McDonald "raised the knife across chest" and pointed it at Van Dyke. Van Dyke told investigators that he feared McDonald would rush him with the knife or throw it at him, and he also recalled a 2012 Police Department bulletin warning about a knife that was also capable of firing a bullet, as well as throwing knives and also spring-loaded knives capable of propelling the blade. One report noted that McDonald's knife "was in the open position" but, when announcing charges against Van Dyke, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the knife was found folded at the scene. [MORE]
Mr. March, Mr. Walsh and Mr. Gaffney each denied that they had conspired to come up with a narrative that might justify Mr. Van Dyke’s decision to shoot Laquan. None of them fired any shots that night. Other officers, too, had witnessed the shooting and had given questionable accounts, but were not on trial; grand jurors indicted the three officers but declined to indict any others.
It was “undisputed and undeniable,” Judge Stephenson said, that Laquan had ignored officers’ commands to drop his knife. While she spoke, the three officers sat silently, sometimes staring down at the carpet or nervously jiggling a leg. After she read the verdict, several [white] people broke into applause.
Mr. Walsh, who was Mr. Van Dyke’s partner on the night of the shooting and who has resigned from the department, said little. The experience has been “heartbreaking for my family,” he said. “A year and a half.”
But many others were outraged.
“The verdict says to police officers that you can lie, cheat, steal, rape, rob and pillage, and it’s O.K.,” said the Rev. Marvin Hunter, who is Laquan’s great-uncle.
A group of ministers who gathered at the courthouse denounced the outcome. The Rev. Leon Finney, a pastor on Chicago’s South Side, called it a “travesty.”
“There was clearly evidence from the video that Laquan McDonald was not attacking or seeking to attack any of the law enforcement officers,” Mr. Finney said. “How could they all three make up a story indicating that Laquan was threatening their lives?”
Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president who is a candidate for mayor, called the decision “a devastating step backward.”
“Laquan’s murder has become a part of the fabric of our city,” she said. “The verdict today does not serve justice in the wake of the senseless loss of a young life.”