Nearly nine months since Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder for shooting Laquan McDonald, police Supt. Eddie Johnson is considering whether to fire or discipline at least 10 other cops for allegedly covering up what happened or bungling the investigation, sources say.
That’s the recommendation contained in a report on Johnson’s desk from Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson.
Among the first to go: Deputy Chief David McNaughton, who signed off on the police investigation that cleared Van Dyke of wrongdoing and retired Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times first reported.
McNaughton had written that the officer had “fired his weapon in fear of his life when the offender while armed with a knife continued to approach and refused all verbal direction.” Sources said McNaughton was forced out because of his role in the case.
Other high-ranking officials besides McNaughton are expected to resign, retire or be fired for their actions in the McDonald case, sources say. Johnson hasn’t formally moved to fire any cops in connection with the inspector general’s recommendation. No administrative charges have been filed with the Chicago Police Board, the first step in firing a cop.
Last month, Ferguson, the inspector general, had an hourlong meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It’s unclear if Ferguson discussed his McDonald recommendations with the mayor.
On Nov. 24, Van Dyke was charged with murder by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which had reinvestigated the shooting along with the FBI. A video from a police vehicle’s dashboard camera, made public on Nov. 24, showed that McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke and his partner when he was shot 16 times.
In December, Sharon Fairley, head of the Independent Police Review Authority, asked Ferguson to review the involvement of other officers in the McDonald case. Fairley said she made the request to boost public confidence in the review since it would be done by an agency that hadn’t previously been involved in the case — as IPRA was.
Later that month, David March, the detective who led the investigation of the shooting, and Joseph Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, were placed on desk duty. Ferguson had recommended the move.
In his official statement to investigators after McDonald was shot on Oct. 20, 2014, Walsh had backed up Van Dyke’s version of events: McDonald was waving a knife and moving toward police when Van Dyke opened fire.
March’s investigation repeated those accounts, even stating that they matched up with the dashboard camera video that captured the shooting. In his report, March concluded that McDonald “initiated imminent use of force likely to cause death or serious injury when he initiated an attack” on the officers.
A sergeant and a lieutenant signed off on March’s report, too.
Five patrol officers besides Walsh have given statements that backed up Van Dyke’s account. Officer Daphne Sebastian, for example, said McDonald turned toward the two officers and continued to wave the knife. She said she heard the officers repeatedly order McDonald to “drop the knife!” But McDonald ignored the verbal instructions and continued to advance toward the officers, waving the knife, she said.
Other officers at the scene filed accounts that indicated they were looking away when Van Dyke shot McDonald repeatedly.
Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the police department, confirmed McNaughton has retired but didn’t say why. He also confirmed the department has received the inspector general’s recommendations, which are “still being reviewed.”
Emanuel didn’t directly address the McDonald case Monday but touched on the need to hold cops accountable for their actions after a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Motorola Solutions’ new global headquarters in the West Loop.
“You have to make sure there’s every oversight and [that] every piece of accountability is in place and has legitimacy. Because at the end of the day, police are the only people you give the legal authority to take somebody else’s life. So you have to have every check and balance in that system. But they are not the problem when it comes to public safety,” Emanuel said.
McNaughton did not respond to a message requesting comment.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, urged Johnson to “quickly implement” the inspector general’s recommendations and not allow the egregious example of the police department’s code of silence to “languish” any more than it already has.
“People who signed off on false reports — that’s almost as bad as firing the bullet. You’re condoning the activity of a bad officer. At the very least, that’s a fireable offense. The state’s attorney should probably be looking at them for criminal charges,” he said. “Until we change that culture of the Police Department, there can’t be any healing.”