In a stunning decision, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson on Thursday acquitted three Chicago police officers on charges of a conspiracy to cover up the 2014 fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.
Stephenson’s not guilty ruling cleared Detective David March and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney of wrongdoing in the investigation of McDonald’s death. The three officers had been accused of falsifying police reports to protect fellow Officer Jason Van Dyke from punishment.
While the unprecedented case was the first time officers stood trial on charges relating to the so-called “code of silence,” an unofficial system of covering for officers’ misconduct, it wasn’t the first time a Cook County judge let Chicago cops off the hook.
While Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer in 50 years to be convicted of murder in an on-duty incident, it was a jury that sealed his fate, not a judge.
Following a history of judges giving acquittals or light sentences in police trials, officers in the city have chosen to lay their fate in the hands of a judge, opting for a bench trial over a jury trial. Many legal onlookers were surprised by Van Dyke’s decision to go with a jury trial and questioned whether he would have been convicted by a judge.
The mere presence of a dozen of Van Dyke’s peers was one of the many reasons the historic case stands out among recent trials of Chicago cops.
Here are recent high-profile cases in which charges were brought against officers but ended differently than Van Dyke’s trial.
Chicago Police Officer Robert Rialmo was found not guilty in a criminal battery case last summer.
Rialmo, 29, had been charged with two counts of misdemeanor battery stemming from two punches that he threw in a restaurant on the Northwest Side in 2017, striking two men and knocking one of them unconscious.
Cook County Judge Daniel Gallagher said the state had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt in the two-day bench trial.
Rialmo had first been thrust into the public spotlight after his December 2015 fatal shooting of Bettie Jones and Quintonio LeGrier.
The shooting of Jones and LeGrier was the first fatal shooting by a Chicago police officer after the release of the Laquan McDonald dashcam video.
In June 2016, a courtroom erupted in protest when Judge Dennis Porter announced he was dismissing all charges against CPD Detective Dante Servin in the shooting death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd.
Servin was off-duty March 21, 2012, when he confronted Boyd, her friend Antonio Cross and others about a rowdy gathering taking place near Servin’s home in Douglas Park. Servin fired shots during the encounter, wounding Cross and killing Boyd. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
In his ruling, Porter said the manslaughter charge required him to find only that Servin had acted recklessly and that Servin should have instead faced more serious charges.
Also in 2015, Judge Diane Cannon acquitted former police Cmdr. Glenn Evans on charges he shoved his gun down the throat of a suspect, pressed a Taser to his groin and threatened to kill him.
Evans was found not guilty of aggravated battery and official misconduct in the 2013 incident despite evidence showing the suspect’s DNA on Evans’ gun.
That evidence, the judge ruled, was of “fleeting relevance” to the case.
In another 2011 incident, Evans allegedly grabbed a woman and pushed her nose after she refused to be fingerprinted following an arrest for domestic disturbance.
Jefferson Tap officers
A courtroom burst into applause when a judge in 2009 acquitted three Chicago police officers involved in a bar brawl.
Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. tore into the credibility of the alleged victims as he said “fighting words” had been hurled at the off-duty cops before the 2006 scuffle started. The officers only engaged in “mutual combat,” Gainer said, that was initiated by the other group using a vulgarity at one of the officers for crying about his father’s death.
Sgt. Jeffery Planey and Officers Paul Powers and Gregory Barnes were found not guilty of aggravated battery, among other charges.
Officer Anthony Abbate was sentenced only to two years probation after he was convicted of aggravated battery in the beating of a female bartender.
The 2007 attack was caught on surveillance video at Jesse’s Shortstop Inn, and Abbate was fired from the department.