Judge Recuses Herself During Arraignment for 3 Officers Charged in Laquan McDonald Case, Officers Plead Not Guilty

The judge set to preside over the arraignment of three current and former Chicago police officers charged with conspiracy last month in connection with the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald recused herself from the case Monday morning.

Judge Margaret Brosnahan gave no reason behind the decision, which was announced moments before the arraignment hearing.

Det. David March and officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney were charged in late-June with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice for allegedly attempting to prevent or shape the investigation, special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes announced in a release.

The officers ultimately pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday and were released on their own recognizance with a $50,000 I-Bond. 

All three officers were on the scene on Oct. 20, 2014, when Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots at 17-year-old McDonald, according to Holmes. 

Walsh, 48, was Van Dyke's partner at the time and allegedly gave conflicting accounts about the events leading up to the shooting, which was captured on dashcam video. Van Dyke has since been charged with murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.

March, 58, was lead detective at the time of McDonald's shooting death. According to Holmes, March, Walsh and Gaffney, 43, "conspired in the critical early hours and days… to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald… to shield their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution."

The officers allegedly lied about what occurred and mischaracterized the video recordings so that investigators would not know what happened and that the public would not see the video recordings, Holmes claims.

They also prepared and submitted police reports that portrayed Walsh, Gaffney and Van Dyke as "victims assaulted and battered" by McDonald, according to the indictment filed Tuesday.

Holmes said they also conspired in failing to locate and interview at least three witnesses whose information was inconsistent with the accounts of officers, as well as failing to locate and preserve physical evidence.

"Investigating and charging police officers with crimes relating to their duties is a sobering responsibility," Holmes said at a news conference detailing the charges. "While they are sworn to serve and protect as well as uphold the law, they are not above the law."

The officers' various actions and inactions were "egregious enough that the grand jury indicted them on three felonies that carry a sentence of three to five years imprisonment and fines of up to $25,000 on each count," Holmes continued. 

Attorney information for the accused was not immediately available.

After the officers were indicted, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the department would continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigation. 

"The shooting of Laquan McDonald forever changed the Chicago Police Department and I am committed to implementing policies and training to prevent an incident like this from happening again," Johnson said in a statement.

"Throughout this investigation, CPD has fully cooperated with prosecutors and will continue to do so," he continued. "We will also continue to implement meaningful reforms that build community trust, provide greater training and resources to our dedicated officers, and make Chicago safer."

Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham said in a statement that the FOP was aware of the charges, but declined to comment further.

All three officers are schedueld to appear in court again Aug. 29. 

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