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Tragic coincidence: 1st cops to see Laquan McDonald usually had a Taser

(From left to right) Former Chicago Police Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March walk into the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. They were acquitted of conspiring to cover up the shooting of Laquan McDonald. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

The first police officers who ran into Laquan McDonald the night the 17-year-old was shot dead usually traveled with a third officer who carried a Taser, a fateful detail buried among thousands of pages of trial documents released Thursday.

A year after the shooting, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney told a federal grand jury that he and his partner the night of the shooting usually patrolled with a third officer, who usually was the only one of the trio who carried one of the less-than-lethal devices.

“Well we’re not required to take it out every night, but it’s just — it’s a hard area. You know, it’s hard for me, where to put it, how to carry it, stuff like that,” Gaffney said.

Testimony in Jason Van Dyke’s trial for murder showed an officer with a Taser arrived seconds after Van Dyke fired a fatal barrage of 16 shots at the teen.

The transcript was among several dozens of documents, video and audio files that had been used as trial exhibits during the trial of Gaffney and fellow officers David March and Joseph Walsh, who were accused of covering up for Van Dyke by filing false reports. In December, all three were acquitted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges by Judge Domenica Stephenson. Gaffney returned to duty after his acquittal but is assigned to the department’s finance section while Internal Affairs conducts an investigation, Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

The exhibits were released Thursday to the public after news organizations, including the Chicago Sun-Times, petitioned Stephenson to make them public following her not-guilty ruling. Exhibits from Van Dyke’s trial on murder charges, which concluded in October, remain under seal.

Also included was the full text of an email between Sgt. Daniel Gallagher and his supervisor, Lt. Anthony Wojcik, both of whom retired from CPD in 2016 after the city Inspector General recommended firing 11 officers involved in the McDonald case. In the message, Gallagher lays out over 19 paragraphs why Van Dyke’s shooting was justified and warns that an IPRA investigation was sapping morale in the 8th Police District.

“For IPRA to immediately determine this was a bad shoot is ridiculous. They don’t have all the facts…” Gallagher wrote to Wojcik, adding later that “(IPRA) is a shoddy organization, in way over their heads, an (sic) causing the city millions of dollars because of it.”

Excerpts from the message, which Gallagher sent to Wojcik two weeks after the shooting, had been featured in pre-trial filings or were read aloud during the trial, including Gallagher’s observation that “we should be applauding (Van Dyke) not second guessing him” and that McDonald’s death was “possibly suicide by police.”

Also included were emails Gallagher and Wojcik exchanged after the CPD investigation had closed, including messages with a fellow officer in the local Fraternal Order of Police and a Washington D.C. non-profit devoted to representing police officers accused of misconduct. In one April 2015 message, the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund asks Wojcik, “Tony, any luck making the case go away?” Wojcik’s reply, if any, was not entered into evidence.