Judge allows cameras in courtroom for trial of cops charged in Van Dyke coverup

SHARE Judge allows cameras in courtroom for trial of cops charged in Van Dyke coverup
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Chicago Police Officer Joseph Walsh leaves the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after testifying in the murder trial of his former partner, Jason Van Dyke. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

There will be cameras in the courtroom for the trial of three Chicago police officers accused of filing false reports to cover up for fellow officer Jason Van Dyke after he shot and killed Laquan McDonald.

Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson on Monday ruled in favor of a request for “extended media coverage” for the trial, allowing television and still photographers and audio recording for the remaining hearings in the case against Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, and former Det. David March and fellow Officer Thomas Gaffney.

Lawyers for the three officers objected to the presence of cameras, arguing that having cameras and microphones in the courtroom could compromise private conversations with their clients or sidebars with the judge, and that witnesses would be able to see the testimony of other witnesses.

“I’ve worked in this building for over 30 years . . . This is not a secret trial,” said March’s lawyer James McKay, a former prosecutor. “The doors are open . . . You want to see how the criminal justice system in Cook County works, come on down, sit in the gallery and watch.”

Allowing cameras in courtrooms have become common in high-profile cases in Cook County since the state Supreme Court implemented rules for media access in 2015 — cameras were present for every hearing in Van Dyke’s case, from his bond hearing in 2015 to his three-week trial nearly three years later.

It was not clear from Stephenson’s ruling whether every witness will have to appear on camera. Under the media rules, a judge can allow individual witnesses to opt out of the extended coverage. Judge Vincent Gaughan, who presided over Van Dyke’s case, did bar cameras for several witnesses during the officer’s trial — including the testimony of Walsh, who testified for the state under a grant of immunity from Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon.

Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery charges.

The three officers are charged with making false statements in reports about the shooting, claiming that McDonald was moving toward the officers.

Only one photographer, one video camera, and one audio recording will be allowed in the courtroom, starting with a status hearing set for Tuesday. Members of the public still will be barred from bringing phones, cameras or recording equipment into the building.

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