EDITORIAL: Why our city needs to care about Sgt. Donald Markham’s death

SHARE EDITORIAL: Why our city needs to care about Sgt. Donald Markham’s death

Chicago Police Sgt. Donald Markham and Officer Dina Markham. | Facebook

Why should you care about the mysterious death of a Chicago police officer?

Here’s why:

Because if the police can completely foul up an investigation into the death of one of their own, they probably are fouling up investigations all over town.


Because if our city does not call the police to account for doing a bad job this time, why should anybody trust they’ll get it right next time?

Because the Chicago Police Department has among the lowest murder clearance rates in the country, last year solving only 17.5 percent of all homicides. The sloppy police work exhibited in the death investigation of the officer — and the department’s failure to reconsider its findings despite new evidence from the FBI — might help explain that miserable clearance rate.

Because the road to reform of the police department begins and ends with trust. But, as spelled out in a Justice Department report last year, trust in CPD is dangerously low. The public has seen too much bad police work and blatant favoritism, as in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2014 and the two investigations into the 2004 death of David Koschman.

How, then, did Chicago police Sgt. Donald Markham die? The official finding by the police and the Cook County medical examiner’s office is that he committed suicide. They say he shot himself in the head on Sept. 2, 2015, after a night of drinking and arguing with his wife, Dina Markham, who also was a Chicago cop.

But a series of investigative reports by Sun-Times reporters Tim Novak and Robert Herguth have raised fundamental questions about the integrity of the police investigation. And FBI files, obtained this week by the Sun-Times, cast further doubt on the official findings.

Among the many troubling facts:

  • The medical examiner’s office was not called to the scene of the shooting, Markham’s home on the Northwest Side, until after his body had been removed.
  • The police violated protocol and removed the body from the home themselves, in a police wagon, not waiting for a city contractor to take the body to the county morgue.
  • The police essentially destroyed the death scene by also quickly removing the bloody mattress on which Markham’s body had been found, carting it off in another police wagon. They dumped the mattress behind the Jefferson Park district police station — and a garbage truck picked it up a few hours later.
  • Dina Markham’s cell phone was in her husband’s pocket, even as his body was taken to the morgue. When detectives asked her for the phone’s password so they could look at any messages, she refused to give it to them. Later, the police returned the phone to her. The phone has since disappeared.
  • An evidence technician reportedly asked whether he should test Dina Markham’s hands for gunshot residue to see if she had fired a weapon, but the officer in charge at the scene — Lt. Denis P. Walsh — reportedly told him, “No need.”

The police and the medical examiner’s office have ruled Donald Markham’s death a suicide. But the FBI, citing additional evidence and a wealth of inconsistencies, has urged that this ruling be rescinded.

According to the FBI records, officers and firefighters dispatched to the Markhams’ home in Old Norwood Park told the feds they didn’t believe he’d killed himself, calling the position in which his body was found on the couple’s bed “odd.” A pathologist enlisted by the FBI agreed, saying it appeared Donald Markham’s body had been moved.

Dina Markham also has died. She was found dead in her bathtub on May 28, 2017, hours after she had been out drinking with another officer — an officer with whom, according to the FBI documents, her husband had accused her of having an affair.

The medical examiner ruled Dina Markham’s death an accidental drowning.

Everything about this case raises disturbing questions about police professionalism in Chicago. Everything about it sends a message to every Chicagoan — this is how your police department works. That, in turn, insults the integrity of good cops who are working to rebuild CPD’s tarnished image.

It is not a comforting thought.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

SUN-TIMES PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE MARKHAM DEATH CASES: • FBI files reveal cheating allegations in mysterious Chicago cop deaths, March 22, 2018 • No charges from state’s attorney in mysterious Chicago cop death, Jan. 28, 2018 • FBI report: Mysterious Chicago cop death ‘is best certified as ahomicide,’Jan. 12, 2017 • Medical examiner rebuffs FBI findings in mysterious Chicago copdeath,Dec. 20, 2017 • New text messages emerge in mysterious Chicago cop deaths, Nov. 12, 2017 • Garbage man told: Dump bloody mattress ASAP in mysterious cop death, Oct. 8, 2017 • Chicago police threw out bloody mattress in mysterious cop death, Aug. 27, 2017 • Cop drank, drowned in bathtub amid FBI probe of cop husband’s death, July 18, 2017 • Another mystery in case of Chicago cop couple’s mysterious deaths, June 18, 2017 • Chicago cop couple’s mysterious deaths under investigation, June 1, 2017

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