Judge to Decide Verdict in Chicago Police Cover-Up Trial Thursday - NBC Chicago

High-profile trial for Chicago officer who shot Laquan McDonald

Judge to Decide Verdict in Chicago Police Cover-Up Trial Thursday

Former Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March are charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and official misconduct

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Conflicting Stories in Laquan McDonald Police Conspiracy Case

    NBC 5 investigates the alleged cop cover-up trial. Three officers are accused of lying about the night Jason Van Dyke killed Laquan McDonald. Phil Rogers reports.

    (Published Monday, Dec. 3, 2018)

    NOTE: NBC 5 will live stream the verdict being read from the courtroom right here. Watch live above beginning at 1 p.m. CT Thursday. 

    The fate of three Chicago police officers at the center of a conspiracy and corruption case surrounding the shooting of black Chicago teen Laquan McDonald now rests in the hands of a judge. 

    Judge Domenica Stephenson is expected to rule on whether the officers manufactured a narrative exaggerating the threat 17-year-old McDonald posed the night he was shot 16 times by former Officer Jason Van Dyke. 

    Former Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March are charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and official misconduct.

    Van Dyke was convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. He is expected to be sentenced Friday. 

    Prosecutors have alleged the officers lied to protect one of their own. Defense attorneys say there's no evidence of a cover-up. 

    The heart of the state’s case is a series of reports-most of them filed within the first days after the controversial shooting.  The paperwork has been compared to the now-infamous dashcam video, which prosecutors say contradicts many of the officers' statements. 

    Defense attorneys, however, argue the three officers stand to lose their freedom over a few disputed words.

    It will be up to the judge to decide whether the discrepancies amount to early confusion, or a conspiracy by the three to distort the truth.

    Among the evidence presented in the case were documents written by the officers within the first few hours of the shooting.

    March quoted Van Dyke in one of those reports, saying that McDonald had been swinging his knife in an "agressive, exaggerated manner," as he walked down Pulaski.

    "When [McDonald was] within 10-15 ft, looked at [Van Dyke], raised knife across chest, over shoulder, pointed knife at VD.”

    The dashcam video did not appear to show that.

    “VD believed [McDonald] was attacking with knife trying to kill VD,” the report continued. “In defense of his life, VD backpedaled and fired.”

    The report stated that after falling to the ground, despite his wounds, McDonald "appeared to be attempting to get up, still holding knife, pointing at VD."

    March’s typewritten report said those facts, and others were substantiated by the dashcam video.

    "That statement was false," prosecutor Brian Watson told the judge.

    Dashcam video seems to contradict a number of suggestions made in the reports.

    Van Dyke and two of the current defendants, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney, checked boxes on their own reports, that McDonald posed an "imminent threat of battery," was attacking with a weapon, and potentially using force "likely to cause death or great bodily harm."

    "All of them marked false information," Watson said.  "All of them marked consistently false information."

    March quoted another officer, Dora Fontaine, as saying McDonald raised his arm toward Van Dyke "as if attacking Van Dyke."

    Fontaine testified in court that’s not what she saw, and not what she told March that night.

    It had become a consistent narrative. March told the state police "The offender Laquan McDonald assaulted the three victim Chicago Police Officers with a knife." At the conclusion of March’s 23-page CPD report, a supervisor concluded that McDonald was "an active assailant who while armed with a dangerous weapon, used force that was likely to cause death or serious injury."

    Much will center on if the state has been able to prove of a meeting or agreement to hatch a common story.

    "It is the most important element for a conspiracy," defense attorney James McKay cautioned. "There is no evidence whatsoever that there was ever an agreement at any time that night."

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