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Van Dyke partner among 7 cops CPD seeks to fire in McDonald case

This image was taken from a recording made by a police vehicle dashboard camera. It was released by the Chicago Police Department on November 24, 2015. It shows Laquan McDonald just before he was shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014. | Photo by Chicago Police Department, distributed by Getty Images

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson is seeking to fire seven officers — including the partner of Officer Jason Van Dyke — for allegedly lying in their accounts of what happened in Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Johnson originally planned to announce Thursday that he would move to fire eight of the 10 officers that city inspector general had recommended for termination, but one of them then retired. Another one, Deputy Chief David McNaughton, had retired on Monday.

A source said Joseph Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner the night of the shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, is one of those officers Johnson is seeking to fire. Walsh declined to comment Thursday.

SHAKE-UP: Johnson overhauls command staff

Johnson has decided not to seek the termination of the 10th officer, saying he disagrees with the city inspector general’s recommendation to fire that officer. Sources said the officer who was spared is a woman. Several female officers’ accounts of the shooting differed from the video taken that night.

The police department and outside counsel have reviewed the reports in the 2014 shooting, along with videos and other evidence, and found the officers violated Rule 14, which prohibits officers from giving false information.

In a letter to rank-and-file officers, Johnson wrote: “While I know that this type of action can come with many questions and varying opinions, please know that these decisions were not made lightly.”

“As I have said before, with every decision that I make, I always keep in mind the tremendous sacrifice, bravery and commitment of every officer,” he wrote.

THE CASE: Laquan McDonald briefing — the videos, the police reports

The Sun-Times reported earlier this week that Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s investigation also led to the retirement of McNaughton, who was in charge of the shooting scene. McNaughton had found that Van Dyke’s use of force was proper. McNaughton had written that McDonald was approaching Van Dyke when he was shot and the officer was in fear for his life.

Van Dyke’s partner, Walsh, said McDonald continued to advance on them, ignoring commands to drop a knife in his hand. McDonald swung the knife at the officers in an “aggressive manner” when he was 12 to 15 feet away, Walsh told investigators.

But a video from a police vehicle showed that the knife-wielding McDonald was walking away from the officers — parallel to them — when he was shot 16 times by Van Dyke.

Van Dyke was charged with murder on Nov. 24, 2015, the same day the city released the video to the public. The charges stemmed from a separate investigation by the Cook County state’s attorney and the FBI.

The recommended firings of the seven officers do not end the inspector general’s investigation, sources say. Ferguson will now turn to what then-Supt. Garry McCarthy and his executive staff knew about the discrepancies between the video and police officers’ accounts, and what they did about it.

Although Van Dyke was immediately stripped of his police powers and placed on desk duty after McCarthy viewed the video, the inspector general will look into why other officers — including the ones who Johnson recommends firing — were not also placed on desk duty pending an investigation of their actions.

The Chicago Police Board will consider Johnson’s recommendations. The board decides the punishment in police disciplinary cases. As of Thursday morning, it had not yet received formal charges from the city seeking to fire the officers.

UP NEXT: Inspectors general will now see if CPD brass in on cover-up

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s’ Black Caucus, applauded Johnson for moving quickly to rid the department of officers who covered up the shooting.

Until now, Rule 14 — the “if you lie, you die” rule that’s supposed to prohibit police officers from filing false reports or lying under oath during the course of an investigation — has pretty much been a joke, Sawyer said.

“It’s a good start, a new beginning. It does a lot toward restoring the trust between the community and the police. It shows other police officers that misconduct is not going to be tolerated any longer,” Sawyer said.

But Sawyer said he will not be satisfied until police brass who saw the dashcam video on Oct. 21, 2014, the day after Laquan McDonald was killed, also are held accountable.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) praised Johnson’s actions, but said CPD brass also must be held accountable. | Sun-Times file photo
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) praised Johnson’s actions, but said CPD brass also must be held accountable. | Sun-Times file photo

“They should have verified that the reports were consistent with what occurred on the tape — from the supervisory personnel all the way up to the top brass. There should have been some red flag that they were not the same. Just to punt it to IPRA was not appropriate,” Sawyer said.

“Right after that tape was shown, they should have expressed outrage . . . A lot of this would not have been as inflammatory as it has been if they had come out immediately and said, ‘This was a bad act by a bad actor,’ as they did after the Paul O’Neal shooting. Had they done that, it would not have been the powder keg that it has been.”

Last year, after the release of the Laquan McDonald police reports showed officers’ narratives did not agree with what was on video, then-Interim Supt. John Escalante said the department had put in place a more formal review process for police-involved sh
Last year, after the release of the Laquan McDonald police reports showed officers’ narratives did not agree with what was on video, then-Interim Supt. John Escalante said the department had put in place a more formal review process for police-involved shootings. | File photo

First Deputy Supt. John Escalante, who announced his retirement earlier this week, was chief of detectives at the time the police investigation of the McDonald shooting was approved.

In December, he was asked why the reports were approved when the video clearly contradicts the officers’ accounts.

“Without trying to pass the buck, there actually was never anything for me to sign off on,” Escalante said then. “But we’re changing that so that there will be as we move forward.”

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, a student of police misconduct, called the move to fire the officers a “powerful statement” at a time the U.S. Justice Department is investigating the department’s practices.

Rule 14 has been on the books for years, but it is “rarely” enforced because there has not been the “political will” in Chicago, he said.

“It’s one thing to say that lying and false statements are prohibited. It’s another thing to walk the talk. That’s the challenge. It’s having a consistent policy of, when officers lie in a misconduct investigation, they’ll be fired. If they retaliate against a fellow officer for providing truthful information, they’ll also be fired and referred for criminal prosecution. That’s the way to end the code of silence in Chicago,” Futterman said.

Law professor Craig Futterman thinks the current structure of the proposed Commission on Police Accountability is a “recipe for failure.” | Provided
Law professor Craig Futterman says there are valid reasons for the public’s lack of trust in the Chicago Police Department and city government when it comes to police misconduct. | Provided

“Everyone is watching now. The real test is what happens when everyone isn’t watching. What fundamentally are the core values of the department? Are they going to stand for integrity — not just when the cameras are on, but in everyday operations? That will ultimately determine whether the department and city officials will earn the trust of the Chicago community.”

If Johnson is truly determined to “walk the talk,” he can’t just “pick on the rank-and-file” officers accused of covering up the McDonald shooting.

“It’s far more egregious when and if there are high-level police brass involved in participating or directing that code. And there’s a lot of evidence to believe that it did” in the McDonald case, he said.

“There was an official narrative approved at the highest levels that the video showed was a lie. There was no doubt that statement was false and yet, it was never corrected by anyone in the city in the 13 or 14 months that followed until a judge ordered the release of the truth,” Futterman said.

“That’s precisely why there is a the lack of trust that we have seen. That’s the challenge going forward.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tried all week to distance himself from the police purge triggered by the inspector general’s report. Despite his controlling image, Emanuel has insisted that he has built a “Chinese wall” to insulate the Chicago Police Department from personnel moves dictated by City Hall.

On Thursday, the mayor backed his superintendent while insisting that the final decision was Johnson’s alone.

“I appreciate Supt. Johnson’s thoughtful review of the inspector general’s report, and I fully support his decisions,” the mayor was quoted as saying in an emailed statement.

“As the city takes these important steps to hold individuals accountable, we must also recommit ourselves to partnering together to rebuild trust between our police department and our residents. As Chicagoans who love this city, we must continue to work together to build that brighter tomorrow for everyone.”‎