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Ex-Officer Joseph Walsh, second from left, former Detective David March, center, and Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney arrive in court on the first day of the trial with Judge Domenica A. Stephenson at Leighton Criminal Courthouse. | Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune pool file photo

Judge delays verdict in Laquan McDonald conspiracy case

SHARE Judge delays verdict in Laquan McDonald conspiracy case
SHARE Judge delays verdict in Laquan McDonald conspiracy case

A judge has delayed her ruling on the fate of three Chicago Police officers accused in filing false police reports on the Laquan McDonald shooting.

CPD officer Thomas Gaffney and former officers Joseph Walsh and Detective David March will return to court on Wednesday, but Judge Domenica Stephenson on Monday announced that she will not be rendering her decision at the hearing.

Stephenson heard five days of testimony over two weeks in the case brought by Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, charging the three officers in a conspiracy to cover for fellow officer Jason Van Dyke.

Van Dyke, who shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times, was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery during a separate trial that ended in October. After Van Dyke was charged, a group of activists and civil rights lawyers petitioned the court to assign a special prosecutor to investigate the CPD’s handling of the McDonald investigation. After a year-long probe, a team led by Holmes, a former federal prosecutor and Cook County judge, announced charges against the three officers and included a half-dozen other officers as unindicted co-conspirators.

Prosecutors have alleged Walsh, who was standing next to Van Dyke as Van Dyke opened fire, and Gaffney, who was one of the first officers to confront McDonald the night of the shooting, made false statements in reports to make it appear that the teen had been making aggressive moves toward Van Dyke when he was shot.Gaffney, who was placed in unpaid leave, is not facing any disciplinary action, and the IG report did not recommend firing him.

Those accounts are contradicted, prosecutors say, by dashboard-camera video that was key evidence in Van Dyke’s murder trial, which appears to show McDonald walking away from the officers as Van Dyke opens fire. In the months after, March, the lead detective, filed reports clearing Van Dyke of wrongdoing, his supervisors shared information and investigative files about the case with union representatives and a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that funds legal defense of police officers. Those officers, Sgt. Daniel Gallagher and Lt. Anthony Wojcik, have not been charged, but both retired after a city inspector general issued a report on the shooting that recommended they be fired.

Van Dyke and four other officers who were at the shooting scene also got bad news Monday from the city Police Board, which set a March date to begin termination hearings tied to allegations of misconduct surrounding the McDonald shooting for Sgt. Stephen Franko and officers Daphne Sebastian, Ricardo Viramontes and Janet Mondragon.

Lawyers for the three officers have said the purported lies in reports amount to small errors at worst and that the investigation reached a plausible conclusion that Van Dyke was defending himself when he gunned down a knife-wielding McDonald.

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