Long before the Laquan McDonald shooting video was made public, lawyers for the city knew it could be a problem.
On March 1, 2015 — a week after former Mayor Rahm Emanuel was forced into a runoff election and a month before the City Council approved a $5 million settlement with McDonald’s family — lawyers for the Chicago Police and Law departments viewed the now-infamous dashcam video during a meeting with members of the CPD’s Area Central Detectives division.
“It was very apparent that it was not about determining whether the shooting was justified,” Lt. Ozzie Valdez said of the meeting. “It was determining how the video would jeopardize anything.”
On Wednesday, the city released thousands of pages of records related to the investigation of the McDonald shooting conducted by the city’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The records primarily concern the 16 officers Inspector General Joe Ferguson recommended be disciplined for their roles in covering for former CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke, who fired the 16 shots that killed the African American teenager in 2014.
The documents offer an even closer look into the shooting and subsequent investigations that have dominated Chicago’s consciousness for nearly five years.
Among the inspector general’s findings: Current CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson — who Emanuel tapped for the job in an effort to quell tensions between the CPD and city’s African American community — saw the shooting video before it was publicly released and believed the shooting to be justified.
Ferguson’s office also found that Van Dyke repeatedly submitted false reports, made false statements and disobeyed orders from supervisors while the office was conducting its investigation.
“Van Dyke’s false reports, false statements, and material omissions all served to exaggerate the threat McDonald posed,” the reports released by the Office of the Inspector General state.
“Van Dyke failed to cooperate with the OIG’s investigation, after being properly called upon to do so and in direct violation of a superior’s order, by refusing to answer OIG’s questions in his interview. Van Dyke’s statements can be seen as a deliberate attempt to establish the false narrative that a back-pedaling Van Dyke shot an onrushing McDonald in response to McDonald’s potentially deadly knife attack.”
Dan Herbert, Van Dyke’s attorney, issued a statement Wednesday saying the inspector general’s report “confirms our contention throughout these court proceedings.”
“Jason Van Dyke was taking the fall to protect the politicians and police command staff who determined the shooting was justified before realizing there would be a huge public outcry,” Herbert said.
The OIG report on Anthony Wojcik — the lieutenant at the scene of the shooting who retired from the department in 2016 — was especially concerned with his handling of reports by detectives who interviewed several civilian eyewitnesses the night of the shooting.
Wojcik said the reports had gone missing, but assured one detective the department would find them. He told several others that the original reports were destroyed when he spilled coffee on them, but Wojcik said he’d been able to “recreate” the reports, and that he had disposed of the originals.
Wojcik refused to be interviewed by OIG investigators, according to the report, first asserting that the inspector general’s subpoena power did not apply to retired city employees. When a judge ruled that Wojcik would have to sit for an interview, his lawyer said Wojcik would assert his Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to answer questions.
Though they were not criminally charged, three other officers and a sergeant who were on scene the night of the shooting were fired earlier this year for allegedly lying to cover up the shooting. They have filed lawsuits fighting their terminations.
Among the lost interview reports were those of Det. Beth Svec, who talked witnesses who were largely mortified by Van Dyke’s actions.
“That omission is particularly egregious because ... one of the witnesses Svec interviewed, claimed he told CPD that night that he saw the shooting and further described it as an “execution,’” the report states.
The OIG recommended the firing of 11 officers who were at the scene of McDonald’s shooting or involved in the subsequent investigation.
Among those was Janet Mondragon, who is among the four officers suing to overturn their termination by the police board. The OIG said her credibility was “severely limited by her uncooperativeness.” Mondragon answered questions by saying she did not remember or did not recall roughly 145 times, according to the inspector general’s report, and gave the answer “not that I recall” more than a dozen times. Mondragon has claimed she was looking down while placing her vehicle transmission into park when McDonald was shot — even though her gearshift lever was on the steering wheel.
Despite her poor memory, Mondragon remembered being served pizza at Area Central.
“It defies belief that Mondragon does not remember whether or not she had seen anyone shot, but has a clear recollection of pizza,” the OIG wrote.
The report for Thomas Gaffney — one of the first officers to encounter McDonald the night of the shooting — keyed on the officer’s failure to make sure the in-car camera and microphones on the SUV was functioning at the start of his shift.
Gaffney told investigators he was not aware the camera was not recording — CPD technicians determined that there was a problem related to the system processing another large video file that prevented it from saving new footage — and admitted that he and his partner, Joe McElligott, did not wear the microphones synced to the camera.
Gaffney was among the officers charged in a conspiracy case for allegedly making false statements in his reports on the shooting. Alongside co-defendants Det. David March and Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, Gaffney was acquitted at a bench trial last year. Gaffney returned to duty as a patrol officer soon after the not-guilty verdict, and never faced discipline from the department.
Former CPD Deputy Chief David McNaughton was the On-Call Incident Commander the night of the shooting. The OIG recommended he be fired for, among other things, approving false reports and relaying a knowingly false statement to the CPD’s Office of News Affairs.
“McNaughton’s creation and endorsement of false statements, despite objective evidence to the contrary, all served to establish a false narrative that McDonald initiated an attack on Officers Walsh and Van Dyke,” the OIG said.
Eugene Roy, the former chief of Area Central Detectives, “let stand reports containing materially false statements and conclusions despite viewing video of the shooting within hours of its occurrence and possessing ongoing knowledge of the investigation as it unfolded.”
Roy and McNaughton were among the officers the OIG recommended be fired, but both retired from the CPD before any disciplinary measures could be brought against them.
The City Council OK’d the release of the reports last month, further allowing for Chicago’s corporation counsel to make public reports issued by Ferguson’s office whenever they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the CPD’s rank-and-file officers, blasted the reports’ imminent release last month as “little more than a political witch hunt.”