Three Chicago Police officers on Monday pleaded not guilty to charges in an alleged conspiracy to derail the investigation of a fellow officer who shot Laquan McDonald.
Officers Joseph Walsh, David March and Thomas Gaffney made their first court appearances Monday since being indicted last month on charges stemming from the 2014 death of 17-year-old McDonald, who was shot 16 times by CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke.
Van Dyke, in 2015, was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting, and a grand jury last month handed up charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice against Walsh, March and Gaffney.
The three officers were released on their own recognizance after a brief hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, with the only drama arising when the first judge assigned to the case, Mary Margaret Brosnahan recused herself from the case.
The case was then turned over to Judge Diane Gordon Cannon, who granted the three officers a $50,000 individual recognizance bond.
Cannon has presided over high-profile police misconduct cases in the recent past. In 2015, she acquitted Chicago Police Cmdr. Glenn Evans of battery and official misconduct charges, lambasting prosecutors and mocking the evidence in a case in which Evans was accused of forcing his gun down a suspect’s throat.
The officers, on Monday, accompanied by their lawyers and trailed by a half-dozen supporters, left the courthouse and filed silently past a waiting throng of photographers and a handful of protesters.
Walsh’s attorney said that the attention on the McDonald shooting made life difficult for his client, but said he believed Walsh would be acquitted of the charges.
“It’s the flip of the coin,” said Tom Breen, Walsh’s lawyer. “(Walsh) has been on the other side so often, and he has worked the streets and protected the public, he has made arrests, he has participated in convictions, and today he finds himself on the other side of that. It’s a frightening position. I’m hoping his family and he can get through it.”
Last month, the special prosecutor assigned to probe the CPD’s handling of the McDonald shooting investigation announced charges against the three officers, alleging that they put false statements in reports about the shooting and failed to interview witnesses whose versions of events might have contradicted Van Dyke’s account of the shooting.
Walsh was Van Dyke’s partner and was standing beside Van Dyke as Van Dyke fired the shots into McDonald. In his statement to investigators the night of the shooting, Walsh backed up Van Dyke’s account that McDonald was moving toward the pair with a pocketknife, and that McDonald continued moving toward them after he hit the ground— all of which appears to be contradicted by dashboard camera video.
March was the lead investigator on the scene, and took down similar statements from Walsh, Van Dyke and other officers, and also said their accounts matched the video of the shooting. Gaffney signed off on reports in which he backed up Van Dyke’s version of events.
March and Walsh retired from the CPD last year after a city Inspector General’s report recommended the pair and nine other officers be fired for their roles in the post-shooting investigation. Gaffney, who had been one of the first officers to encounter McDonald the night of the shooting, had been placed desk duty while the investigation was ongoing. He was suspended without pay last month, after the grand jury handed up the cover-up charges.