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Trial of cops charged with Laquan McDonald cover-up moved to November

Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh

Chicago Police Officers Thomas Gaffney (center) and Joseph Walsh (right) leave the Leighton Criminal Courthouse last year after pleading not guilty for allegedly trying to cover up what happened the night Laquan McDonald was shot to death. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

The trial of three Chicago Police officers charged with filing false reports on the Laquan McDonald shooting to cover for fellow officer Jason Van Dyke will start after Thanksgiving.

The change in date comes just weeks ahead of the July 10 trial date set earlier this year, as lawyers for Det. David March and Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, conceded there was not enough time to brief outstanding issues in the case. The third officer charged is Thomas Gaffney.

But the trial delay was longer than the defense had hoped. Ronald Safer, one of several private attorneys handling the case with Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, said his team is booked to start a two-month trial downstate in September, and couldn’t take on a trial until mid-November.

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The trial now is set to begin Nov. 26, a date that might mean the three officers’ trial will take place after Van Dyke’s. No date yet has been set for Van Dyke’s case, but Judge Vincent Gaughan in recent weeks had been pushing to see the trial begin as soon as this summer.

Jim McKay, representing David March, said he would have to confer with his client before he could agree to a new trial date. None of the three officers were in court Tuesday.

The three officers had opted for a bench trial in front of Judge Domenica Stephenson. Prosecutors have estimated the trial would take less than a week. Walsh and March retired from CPD after the city Inspector General said the pair should be fired for their roles in the investigation of the McDonald shooting. Gaffney was placed on leave.

Walsh, who was standing beside Van Dyke as Van Dyke fired a volley of 16 shots at McDonald in October 2014, and backed his partner’s statement that McDonald was moving toward them as Van Dyke opened fire. March was the lead investigator in the department’s probe of the shooting, and cleared Van Dyke of wrongdoing. Gaffney, who had been one of the first officers to encounter McDonald the night of the shooting, filed false reports on the incident that said officers on hand had been injured before the shooting.