The chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus on Friday questioned why only two of nearly two dozen Chicago Police officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald have been pulled off the street.
The partner of the white police officer charged with the first-degree murder of the black teenager and the detective who led the investigation of the shooting were quietly placed on desk duty in mid-December, more than a year after giving accounts of the shooting that do not jibe with video evidence.
Interim Supt. John Escalante moved Police Officer Joseph Walsh and Detective David March to “administrative status” immediately after receiving a memo recommending the move by the city’s inspector general, Joseph Ferguson.
McDonald was gunned down in October 2014 in a barrage of 16 shots by Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. The shooting was initially ruled justified by a CPD internal investigation.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said he’s “happy they’re at least moving on something” to punish Chicago Police officers who appear to have covered for Van Dyke in the latest example of the Police Department’s code of silence.
But yanking only two officers of nearly two dozen officers off the street while continuing to pay them does not go nearly far enough.
“I’m not satisfied by any means. The process is moving, but it’s too slow. I can’t stand that it’s too slow. I hate to bring race into it, but if there were more black officers involved, I hate to think about it but I believe the process would go differently,” Sawyer said Friday.
“These officers should have been removed from active duty quickly and disciplined swiftly. If false reports were filed by these and other officers, they should be fired. If it leads to criminal activity, they should be criminally charged. Seeing that the delay has been so long, I don’t think people will hail this as any sort of victory. I don’t think it will re-establish trust in the police.”
In his official statement to investigators, Walsh gave an account of the shooting that backed up Van Dyke’s version of events: that McDonald was waving a knife and moving toward police when Van Dyke opened fire. March’s investigation likewise repeated those accounts, stating even that they matched up with dashboard camera video that captured the shooting.
That video shows McDonald walking briskly away from officers with his arms down as Van Dyke opens fire. Van Dyke has been charged in Cook County with murder and official misconduct in the shooting, and charging documents note that footage from a dashboard-mounted video camera does not show McDonald advancing toward officers when he was shot.
Ferguson recommended that Walsh and March be pulled off the street. That was just two days after the newly appointed head of the Independent Police Review Authority, Sharon Fairley, asked him to investigate all officers involved in events leading up to the shooting of McDonald as well as those officers tied to the investigation of that shooting.
That’s more than two dozen officers — roughly the same number who have been called before a federal grand jury that has been investigating the case.
The decision to yank the two officers off the street was simply an “interim step” that could have been taken by IPRA or the Chicago Police Department months earlier. Both agencies have known for months that the police reports differ dramatically from the video.
The fact that neither agency saw fit to remove the officers from day-to-day police work may only heighten public distrust and could jeopardize other cases they have been involved in during the interim.
Walsh and March were singled out because the case against them appears to be the most solid out of any. Walsh was standing right next to Van Dyke when the officer unloaded 16 rounds into the body of the black teenager; many of those shots were fired as McDonald was lying prone on the ground.
Although March could contend he had been lied to by the officers on the scene, the fact that he saw the video and still accepted their stories appears to have made him culpable in the inspector general’s eyes.
Both Walsh and March are still on the police payroll and under investigation by the inspector general’s office, as are more than 20 other Chicago Police officers.
The case against the remaining officers involved in the case appears to be more complicated. Although some of their reports also conflict with the video, the officers were a bit more cagey in their characterization of events. That’s likely to require follow-up questioning.
CPD spokesman Anthony Gugliemi said Friday that no other officers had been moved to administrative duty but did not rule out further action should the department get additional information from ongoing investigations by the IG’s office or federal investigators.
The CPD spokesman said officers who lied will be fired.
“If an officer is found guilty of lying or maliciously misrepresenting the facts, Supt. Escalante will seek termination in any of those cases,” Gugliemi said.
Van Dyke told investigators he was in fear of his life when he emptied his magazine at McDonald, only seconds after arriving at 41st Street and Pulaski Road the night of the shooting. Of the eight officers at the scene, Van Dyke was the only one who fired a shot, though Walsh told investigators the only reason he did not shoot at McDonald was that Van Dyke was in his line of fire.
Even though IPRA investigates all police shootings and complaints of excessive force, Fairley’s call for the city inspector general to investigate the police officers in the McDonald shooting is not unprecedented.
The inspector general’s office has been investigating police officials involved in the case of David Koschman, who died in 2004 after a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley punched him in the face.
The Fraternal Order of Police challenged the ability of Ferguson’s office to investigate police officers but was unsuccessful.
Fairley worked as a deputy to Ferguson before Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed her to be the chief administrator of IPRA.
Scott Ando, the previous IPRA administrator, was forced out just days after Emanuel fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.