Jason Van Dyke’s fellow officers began working to keep him out of trouble almost immediately after he shot Laquan McDonald, and detectives and higher-ranking officers continued to try to protect him even months after the department cleared him of wrongdoing, according to a court document unsealed Thursday.
The document, released by Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson in response to a lawsuit by the Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets, includes an outline of the case Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes intends to make against Chicago Police Officers Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh and Det. David March.
The three men were charged with conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction of justice for filing false reports in Van Dyke’s case, but the newly unsealed document points to numerous other unnamed officers who were at the scene or involved in the ensuing investigation of the shooting who allegedly worked to protect Van Dyke.
The court filing lays out the most detail yet on the alleged conspiracy to cover up for Van Dyke. The document, called a Santiago proffer, spells out the evidence Brown Holmes’ team expects to bring at trial.
The document was released on the same day as a jury began deliberating in Van Dyke’s trial for the murder of McDonald. The three officers are expected to go to trial in November.
“In one sense, the Van Dyke trial is about the actions of one individual,” independent journalist Jamie Kalven, whose reporting in the online magazine Slate was the first to question the police account of the 2014 shooting, said Thursday. “The [Walsh, Gaffney and March] trial is really about how the system works and about systemic conditions that both enable police misconduct and then shield it from public view.”
The court document describes how a sergeant — March’s supervisor who assigned him to the case — sent an email to a lieutenant also involved in the case which states in part about Van Dyke: “We should be applauding him, not second guessing him.”
“Can’t over kill a person who is still alive at the hospital,” the sergeant added. “Offender chose his fate. Possibly suicide by police.”
Neither the sergeant nor lieutenant are named in the document.
Also, a detective — who is a representative of the police union, the FOP — allegedly asked that same sergeant and lieutenant to gather police materials to be reviewed by a law enforcement legal defense fund in an attempt to help Van Dyke.
Brown Holmes did not say if any materials were gathered or if they were ever given to the defense fund.
An FOP spokesman said he had not read the proffer and declined to comment Thursday evening. The defense fund did not respond to a request for comment.
Brown Holmes’ filing also includes testimony Gaffney made to a federal grand jury in which he says McDonald did not approach officers. Gaffney said that McDonald “never came at us at any time. He always continued to walk, but he never stopped or anything like that,” the document says.
Yet another officer, also unnamed, submitted an incident report to March “with false information,” according to Brown Holmes. The officer “is expected to testify that defendant March told her to write this information,” the filing states.
Gaffney and his partner, Joseph McElligott were the first officers to encounter McDonald on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, after a truck driver reported McDonald was breaking into vehicles on a West Side truck lot.
After the shooting, Gaffney told a federal grand jury that he, Van Dyke and other officers met at police Area Central headquarters, and spoke with detectives “all in the same room, just talking [about] what happened.” There was no attempt to separate the officers who were at the scene or interview them individually. The prosecutor describes the meeting as “an attempt to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald.”
Brown Holmes also writes that three witnesses to the shooting “are expected to testify that they were waved from the scene” and not interviewed by police. A fourth witness is expected to say that “all relevant videos were not collected or preserved” from security cameras at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, the proffer states.
The alleged coverup also bled into other investigative agencies involved in the case, Brown Holmes charges.
It’s alleged that March told an investigator at the Cook County medical examiner’s office that McDonald “lunged at the officers with a knife” — a statement that was later included in the medical examiner’s office’s case report. That same claim was submitted on an Illinois State Police Evidence Submission Form.