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Judge denies motion to dismiss Laquan McDonald coverup case

Joseph Walsh, Thomas Gaffney

Chicago Police Officers Joseph Walsh, left, and Thomas Gaffney walk out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in August. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The trial of three Chicago police officers charged in an alleged conspiracy to cover for Jason Van Dyke after he shot and killed Laquan McDonald will go forward later this month after the judge presiding over the case denied a motion to dismiss the charges.

Former Det. David March –– the lead investigator in the CPD investigation that cleared Van Dyke of wrongdoing, Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Joseph Walsh, and Officer Thomas Gaffney are expected to stand trial on Nov. 26.

The trial date falls just under three years from the date city officials released dashboard camera footage of the 2014 shooting. The images prompted a wave of protests across the city and instigated a wave of reform efforts, a federal investigation and a lawsuit by Attorney General Lisa Madigan that led to federal oversight of CPD.

On Monday, attorneys for the three officers affirmed that their clients want a bench trial before Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson.

Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in early October following a three-week jury trial.

Monday’s ruling on the motion to dismiss the conspiracy case against the three officers was routine; few cases are dismissed this late in the game.

Lawyers for the three officers had argued that Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes’ team mislead members of the grand jury that handed up the indictment in 2016, and also sought to bar evidence the prosecution outlined of a wide-ranging conspiracy that includes multiple officers other than Walsh, Gaffney and March.

The case hinges in part on reports the three officers filed after the shooting that included false information, including that Gaffney and Walsh had been injured by 17-year-old McDonald. Prosecutors say those reports were filed after the officers at the scene and detectives met at Area Central headquarters and discussed the investigation.

It was not clear how many officers would take the stand at the upcoming trial, but defense attorneys singled out statements by Dora Fontaine, a police officer at the scene who told investigators that she was instructed by March to put false information in her reports.

At a hearing last week, Walsh’s lawyer, James McKay, said Fontaine had changed her account several times, and that she was not fired even after her false report was brought to light.