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Cop cover-up trial Day 1: Defense questions if detective ever made critical call

From left, former Detective David March, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney and ex-Officer Joseph Walsh appear at a pre-trial hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool file photo

5:55 p.m. Trial ends for the day

5:34 p.m. Defense attorney questions whether David March placed the call

Defense attorney James McKay attacked on cross-examination an investigator for the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office who said he took a damning statement from McKay’s client, David March, following the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

March is one of three Chicago police officers on trial for an alleged conspiracy to protect former Officer Jason Van Dyke after Van Dyke fatally shot McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014. On direct examination, Investigator Earl Briggs said March called him hours after the shooting and told him “the subject lunged at the officer with the knife.”

On cross-examination Tuesday afternoon, McKay tore into Briggs, repeatedly raising questions about whether March was truly the person on the other end of the telephone. He picked over Briggs’ report, noting that he sometimes put information in quotation marks to denote direct quotes. He noted that Briggs did not put “lunged” in quotation marks.

Still, Briggs insisted that March used the word “lunged.” And he later insisted, “I took a phone call from somebody who identified themselves to be Det. March.”

Briggs noted later that the person who called also gave the detective’s star number.

Former Det. David March listens to opening statements as his trial begins Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo
Former Det. David March listens to opening statements as his trial begins Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo

4:45 p.m. ‘The subject lunged at the officer with the knife’

Attorneys for the three Chicago Police officers on trial for an alleged conspiracy to protect former Officer Jason Van Dyke after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald fought hard to keep out of the case a comment made by one of them to an investigator at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.

However, Investigator Earl Briggs eventually acknowledged on the witness stand Tuesday afternoon that David March told him, after McDonald’s death, that “the subject lunged at the officer with the knife” — a statement that directly contradicts video depicting McDonald’s shooting death.

James McKay, March’s attorney, tried to keep Briggs from even taking the stand as the second witness in the conspiracy trial that began Tuesday. McKay argued that the comment was not part of the case against his client. However, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson eventually ruled that making false statements was part of the charge against the three officers, who also include Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney.

Cook County Medical Examiner investigator Earl Briggs takes the stand Tuesday in the trial of three current of former Chicago police officers. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photos
Cook County Medical Examiner investigator Earl Briggs takes the stand Tuesday in the trial of three current of former Chicago police officers. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photos

Defense attorneys continued to object, unsuccessfully, as a prosecutor asked Briggs about the hours that followed McDonald’s shooting. Briggs said he was working midnights then, and he took the phone call from March around 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2014. McDonald was shot and killed hours earlier.

During cross-examination, McKay appeared to suggest that his client, March, wasn’t the man who made the call, at several points saying of the call, “whoever truly made it.”

3:42 p.m. Records show March preserved key pieces of evidence

Looking to score early points for his client, defense attorney James McKay began his cross-examination of a Chicago Police records supervisor by going through key pieces of evidence inventoried — and preserved — by his client, David March.

McKay went through several inventory slips with Joseph Perfetti, director of the records services division at CPD. He was also the first witness called in the trial of three officers accused of a conspiracy to protect former Officer Jason Van Dyke following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.

After the trial returned from a lunch break, McKay questioned Perfetti about inventory slips documenting the preservation of key video from that night taken from police squad cars, a Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. As he went through each, he asked Perfetti the name of the first officer responsible for preserving those pieces of evidence.

For each one, he said, “David March.”

Perfetti also agreed that an inventory slip is basically, as McKay said, a report that reflects a police officer inventoried a piece of evidence and kept it “safe for a trial or some other purpose.”

2:08 p.m. Trial on lunch break

Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson called a lunch break following the direct examination of Joseph Perfetti. The trial is set to resume at 3:05 p.m.

1:07 p.m. Prosecutors put officers’ police reports into the record

Prosecutors used their first witness in the trial of three officers accused of covering up the Laquan McDonald shooting to enter into the record several reports written by the officers after the Oct. 20, 2014 shooting.

The reports entered the trial through Joseph Perfetti, director of the records services division of the Chicago Police Department. The documents identified officers such as Jason Van Dyke, Thomas Gaffney, Joseph McElligott and Joseph Walsh as “victims” and McDonald as the “offender,” Perfetti said.

One report, prepared by David March, described McDonald’s fatal encounter with Van Dyke this way: “criminal attacked officer then that officer killed criminal.”

That report also says McDonald was shot and killed “while McDonald was committing an aggravated assault with a knife against Officer Van Dyke and his partner, Chicago Police Officer Joseph Walsh,” Perfetti said.

12:38 p.m. Gaffney thought about shooting McDonald, defense lawyer says

The defense attorney for Thomas Gaffney said his client “readied himself to use lethal force” during his confrontation with Laquan McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.

That confrontation immediately preceded McDonald’s encounter with then-Officer Jason Van Dyke, who fatally shot the teen 16 times that night.

Gaffney confronted McDonald with his partner, Joseph McElligott, near 40th and Kildare. McElligott followed McDonald on foot while Gaffney stayed in their police vehicle. During that encounter, McDonald slashed at the vehicle’s windshield with his knife.

Gaffney’s attorney William Fahy, told the judge during opening statements Tuesday that McDonald raised his knife and, “looking right at my client … smashed the knife on the windshield.”

Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney, right, next to his attorney William Fahy. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo
Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney, right, next to his attorney William Fahy. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo

That’s when Fahy said Gaffney “readied himself.”

“He readied himself to use lethal force,” Fahy said. “And he made a split-second decision not to use force.”

Fahy’s characterization appears to conflict with what prosecutors say is Gaffney’s federal grand jury testimony about the confrontation.

“Gaffney never personally felt at risk of death or serious bodily injury from Laquan McDonald ‘pretty much because I was still in my car’ and ‘I had my vehicle to protect me,'” prosecutors wrote in a court filing, summarizing and quoting from his testimony.

12:25 p.m. Attorney says Van Dyke’s partner was done with McDonald shooting by morning

In a much more subdued opening statement, an attorney for former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s partner argued that his client’s involvement in the Laquan McDonald shooting on Oct. 20, 2014 had ended by the next morning.

Todd Pugh, in brief remarks, told the judge that human beings perceive things differently. He explained that his client, Joseph Walsh, was required to fill out two reports after Van Dyke fatally shot McDonald. And, he said, that “absolutely ended Joe Walsh’s involvement in this case.”

“He had no other responsibility other than to go home and get up the next day,” Pugh said.

Ex-Officer Joseph Walsh listens to opening statements at the start of his trial Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photos
Ex-Officer Joseph Walsh listens to opening statements at the start of his trial Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photos

Walsh served as a key witness during Van Dyke’s trial earlier this year. Though he was called by prosecutors, his testimony was considered immensely helpful to the defense.

Pugh said the notion that Walsh attached himself to a conspiracy to cover up for Van Dyke is “ludicrous” and would be undermined by the evidence.

12:06 p.m. Laquan McDonald back on trial as defense gives opening statements

The first defense attorney to give an opening statement in the conspiracy trial revolving around the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald immediately turned his attention on McDonald — and he accused the dead teen of committing attempted murder and aggravated assault the night he died.

“This case is about law and order,” James McKay, the lawyer for David March, told the judge. “It’s about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night. There must be some individual responsibility attached to McDonald.”

McKay focused on an earlier comment by Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes that McDonald committed “non-violent” offenses on Oct. 20, 2014. And he told Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson how McDonald first came to the attention of police that night — through a phone call from truck driver Rudy Barrillas.

Barrillas testified during the trial of former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke that he crossed paths with a person believed to be McDonald in a truck yard that night He said that person pulled a knife and tried to stab him.

“That, your honor, is an attempted murder,” McKay said. “That, your honor, is aggravated assault. Those two crimes are violent.”

Attorney Jim McKay, representing ex-Chicago Police Det. David March, delivers his opening statement Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo
Attorney Jim McKay, representing ex-Chicago Police Det. David March, delivers his opening statement Tuesday. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo

11:49 a.m. Opening statements underway

Opening statements are underway in the conspiracy trial of three officers accused of covering up for former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes called the case “straightforward” and “concise.”

“It boils down to what the defendants wrote on paper versus what is shown on video,” Holmes said.

The trial is taking place in a crowded second-floor courtroom — a so-called “fishbowl” courtroom — at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, and comments from the courtroom are being piped into a gallery full of spectators.

The guilt of the three defendants — Joseph Walsh, Thomas Gaffney and David March — will be decided by Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson, rather than a jury. For that reason, Holmes told the judge she would keep her opening statement brief.

In her comments, she promised that several witnesses who testified during Van Dyke’s trial will return to the witness stand for this second trial. She also said that, after McDonald’s shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, “those who are sworn to tell the truth” began to create a false narrative to give Van Dyke justification for killing McDonald.

Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes listens to opening statements from defense attorneys Tuesday on the first day of trial. |<br>Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes listens to opening statements from defense attorneys Tuesday on the first day of trial. |
Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool photo

Holmes said they worked to “create the lies that were designed to help Van Dyke avoid the consequences of his actions. To help Van Dyke avoid the punishment that might come with using deadly force without justification.”

Holmes said that the three officers worked to protect only one man that night — Van Dyke — rather than serving and protecting the people of Chicago.

11:28 a.m. Tangle over subpoenas

Before the bench trial of three cops accused of covering up for former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke got underway Tuesday, lawyers found themselves arguing over subpoenas for a civil rights attorney and an activist credited with exposing the Laquan McDonald shooting.

Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson said she received a motion to quash subpoenas for attorney Craig Futterman and activist and journalist Jamie Kalven. The subpoenas were issued by James McKay, an attorney for David March.

McKay insisted his need for subpoenas hangs on the testimony of Jose and Xavier Torres, the father and son who witnessed McDonald’s shooting by Van Dyke on Oct. 20, 2014. They both also testified during Van Dyke’s trial.

Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said both men remain under subpoena for the conspiracy trial.

“I have no intention of asking Mr. Kalven to reveal his source or sources at IPRA who provided him the Torreses’ address and names,” McKay said, referring to the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigating the McDonald shooting. “I have no intention of going into that at all.”

But when it comes to the Torreses, he said, “I know what they’re locked into.” And he said he might want to call Kalven and Futterman, depending on what the Torreses say on cross-examination, to impeach them.

The judge declined to rule on the matter until later. Following that argument, she held a behind-closed-doors session with the lawyers and the defendants.

Earlier in the morning, the Rev. Michael Pfleger said during a news conference with activists at the courthouse that the case is key to relations between Chicago police and community.

“This case is important for the future. If you ever talk about building relations between community and between police and law enforcement, then what we need to have is holding bad cops accountable. Today is such a case,” Pfleger said.

Video by Ashlee Rezin | Father Michael Pfleger speaks about the Laquan McDonald shooting in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal C