In the spring of 2015, weeks after the Chicago Police Department had closed its investigation of the Laquan McDonald shooting, the head of a legal aid foundation for police officers reached out to the lieutenant who supervised the McDonald probe.
Ron Hosko, the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, wrote to Lt. Anthony Wojcik: “Tony, any luck making the case go away?”
For three officers standing trial for an alleged conspiracy to whitewash the investigation to protect fellow officer Jason Van Dyke, the answer was clear Tuesday.
Though Wojcik is not on trial, Hosko’s email to him was one of the final pieces of evidence introduced by Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes’ team, purported proof of a coordinated effort by three defendants, David March, Thomas Gaffney and Joseph Walsh, as well as others within the Chicago Police Department, to protect Van Dyke by filing false police reports.
On the day that Holmes rested the prosecution’s case, Judge Domenica Stephenson heard more about Wojcik, Sgt. Daniel Gallagher and others than about the three officers on trial. The bench trial will resume Thursday with the defense case, after Stephenson rejected a defense motion to dismiss the case. While judges usually deny such a request, her decision came after a marathon three-hour back-and-forth that likely previewed closing arguments.
Several email messages prosecutors put into the record show Wojcik and Gallagher, who oversaw March’s investigation of the McDonald shooting, appeared to misrepresent key facts about the McDonald shooting early on.
In November, just two weeks after the shooting, Gallagher wrote to Wojcik that Van Dyke “is aware 911 caller has been attacked with a deadly weapon a knife,” when he encountered McDonald, though none of the officers at the scene knew that McDonald had waved a knife at caller Rudy Barillas. Gallagher also dismissed the number of shots Van Dyke fired— 16 in all— as unimportant: “Can’t overkill a person who is still alive at the hospital.”
Though the department would not close the case until that March, Gallagher seemed convinced Van Dyke had done nothing wrong.
“We are trained to shoot until the threat is eliminated defeated or neutralized officer did exactly what he was trained to do,” he wrote. “We should be applauding him, not second-guessing him.”
Wojcik and Gallagher remained interested in the case even after the department closed the investigation.
Hosko’s message to Wojcik came several weeks after Wojcik and Gallagher corresponded with Tom McDonagh, a CPD officer who then was working for the Fraternal Order of Police, about sending files in the case to Hosko. McDonagh flew to Washington D.C. to meet with Hosko— apparently with copies of CPD reports and the video of the shooting — and when he returned, reported to Wojcik that Hosko’s lawyers are “are very excited about this case.”
“I think they will help (Van Dyke’s) case immensely,” McDonagh wrote, according to prosecutors.
Hosko did not respond to requests for comment late Tuesday.
Sharing investigative files outside the department without permission is a violation of CPD rules, according to court testimony on Tuesday.
McDonagh was working for the FOP’s Legal Affairs division in 2015, said FOP Local 7 President Kevin Graham. He remains on the force and is assigned to Area North, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. Wojcik retired in 2016, and Gallagher reportedly has resigned from the force. Neither Wojcik, McDonagh nor Gallagher has been charged with any wrongdoing although the men are implicated in the conspiracy in a prosecution filing. None of the men could be reached for comment.
Defense lawyers pointed out that only one of the messages included any of the three officers on trial, and that most were sent after March had filed his investigation reports clearing Van Dyke.
After the prosecution wrapped up its case, defense attorneys mounted an aggressive attack to persuade Stephenson to acquit their clients before they even put on a defense, insisting the prosecutors had failed to prove their case.
March’s attorney, James McKay, argued that if March had truly wanted to cover for Van Dyke, March could have tossed the infamous video of McDonald’s shooting “in the middle of Lake Michigan.” Instead, he said March saved it and other evidence — which prosecutors have now used to put March on trial.
Walsh’s attorney, Todd Pugh, said Holmes had flipped the criminal trial on its head by forcing defense attorneys to “become the prosecutor of Laquan McDonald.”
Gaffney’s attorney, Will Fahy, said his client didn’t even see McDonald’s shooting, so he couldn’t help cover it up.
Pushing back, Assistant Special Prosecutor Ron Safer played the McDonald shooting video and said the officers’ reports about the shooting were false “beyond any doubt.”
“When the police distort the truth in order to protect one of their own, the system fails. When they lie on police reports, the system fails,” Safer said.
After a hard-fought legal motion by both sides, the judge told the defense attorneys their request was “respectfully denied.”