Lightfoot urges U.S. Attorney’s office to re-examine code of silence acquittals

SHARE Lightfoot urges U.S. Attorney’s office to re-examine code of silence acquittals

(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

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday urged her former colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s office to re-examine code of silence acquittals against three Chicago Police officers accused of covering up the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm — one count for every shot he fired into the body of the black teenager.

But days before Judge Vincent Gaughan chose to sentence Van Dyke on only the second-degree murder count — imposing just 81 months — public trust between citizens and police was further shattered.

A rare indictment that put the three Chicago police officers on trial for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct culminated in the acquittal of all three officers.

“This court finds the state has failed to meet its burden of proof … the court finds the defendants not guilty of every count of conspiracy and official misconduct and obstruction of justice,” Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson said after picking apart the prosecution’s case.

Detective David March, Officer Thomas Gaffney and ex-Officer Joseph Walsh, Van Dyke’s partner on the night of the fatal 2014 shooting, walked out of court as activists fumed about the code of silence.

On Wednesday, Lightfoot aired her longstanding grievance with that code of silence verdict during an interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” expected to air on Thursday.

“I’ve urged the U.S. Attorney’s Office, my former colleagues, to reopen their grand jury investigation and if they determine that there are no civil rights violations they can bring, they need to have a fulsome grand jury report,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a story released in advance of that interview.

“We’ve got to have transparency and healing so that people are able to move on.”

Martin Preib, second vice-president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Lightfoot’s appeal to the feds is “disappointing” to say the least.

“Since Ms. Lightfoot is an attorney, she should understand that the defendants were presumed innocent, and, more importantly, that the judge who heard all the evidence found the three defendants not guilty,” Preib wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

“Ms. Lightfoot, as an officer of the court, should respect and accept the acquittal. Ms. Lightfoot fails to see what this case truly revealed: the three officers were victims of a renegade special prosecutor.”

Lightfoot co-chaired the Task Force on Police Accountability, whose scathing indictment of the Chicago Police Department laid the groundwork for the U.S. Justice Department to do the same.

That set the stage for the consent decree now in place outlining the terms of federal court oversight over CPD under the watchful eye of a federal monitor.

A former police board president, Lightfoot has long talked about the need for a “reconciliation” process to heal the wounds laid bare by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and countless cases of excessive force that preceded that shooting.

During the NPR interview, Lightfoot appeared to double-down on that argument.

She was quoted as saying that policing in Chicago “has not adequately taken into account the segregation in our city and that race does matter.”

That alleged insensitivity “has left many people feeling like the police are an illegitimate occupying force and we’ve got to change that around because literally lives depend on it,” the mayor-elect said.

After greeting commuters on the morning after her historic election, Lightfoot reaffirmed her commitment to deliver public safety to every corner of Chicago.

“Our kids’ lives depend upon keeping them safe. That has to be a fundamental duty and responsibility for me as mayor. That means we have to continue hard but necessary work of bridging the divide between police and communities they serve,” she said.

“Our children … deserve to grow up in an environment where fear is not their constant companion. And I’m determined to do everything I can to make sure every kid — in every neighborhood regardless of zip code, economic status and race or ethnicity — is able to live a life of safety. Without that, nothing else is possible. That is a sacred obligation that I take on willingly.”

The Latest
With history under attack down South, Black History Month is more important than ever.
Residents who recently purchased their first home postponed buying to work on credit scores and dipped into retirement and savings accounts to come up with a down payment.
We want to prepare for the bad and set ourselves up to live within the comfort money can offer. But financial comfort is different for everyone.
Daughter-in-law has an eating disorder and makes unusual meal choices for herself, her husband and their daughter.
The deal includes opt-outs after the first and second years.