(Sun Times Wire) Dashboard camera footage of Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at Laquan McDonald went a long way toward convincing a jury last fall that the 2014 shooting was an act of murder. But the same video did not convince a Cook County judge that three of Van Dyke’s fellow officers were part of a cover-up that began after the shooting.
In a point-by-point takedown, Judge Domenica Stephenson on Thursday acquitted Detective David March and Officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney on counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct — a stunning blow to the prosecution that came the day before Van Dyke was to be sentenced for McDonald’s murder.
Reading from a 28-page written order, Stephenson dissected the case built by Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, tearing down the testimony of key state witnesses and largely agreeing with the defense’s argument that the officers at the scene saw the shooting from a different angle than the single dashcam.
“It is not as simple as looking at the reports in comparison to what is depicted on the video,” the judge said. “It has been established that the recovered videos do not show the vantage point of Van Dyke, Walsh, or others who were either facing or to the side of McDonald.”
Stephenson called into question the credibility of a key prosecution witness, Officer Dora Fontaine, noting she “tried to minimize” McDonald’s behavior while she was on the stand but later admitted she told the FBI, the state’s attorney and the inspector general that McDonald was moving closer to police, waving or “swaying” the knife, and making “attacking movements.”
A critical dispute between the prosecution and defense was whether McDonald was a dangerous teen who presented a real threat to police or in the end, a victim. Stephenson made it clear where she landed, saying it was “undisputed and undeniable” that McDonald was an armed offender who continued to walk toward more populous areas the night he was shot.
Prosecutors repeatedly compared what was in police reports to what the police dashcam video showed. But Stephenson said the case wasn’t as simple as that. The judge noted that two people can view the same event and describe it differently, but that doesn’t mean either is lying. Minor errors in reports are not crimes, the judge said.
As Stephenson paged through her order, McDonald’s great uncle, Rev. Marvin Hunter, frowned from his seat in the last row of the courtroom gallery. As Stephenson stepped away after announcing her conclusion, the baritone voice of Walsh’s lawyer, veteran defense attorney Thomas Breen, could be heard over the chatter from a packed courtroom gallery that held dozens of police officers, union officials and other supporters.
“Good day, your honor,” he said.
Gaffney’s reinstatement to the Police Department was “imminent,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Thursday evening. Gaffney had been suspended after the indictment was announced in July 2017 but will be reassigned to “operational duties”— meaning he will not be on desk duty.
Walsh and March retired from the department in 2016 after the city Inspector General said the pair should be fired for their roles in the investigation.
In the courthouse lobby, Walsh faced a crowd of reporters and said the nearly two years since his indictment had been “heart-wrenching, heartbreaking for my family.” His lawyer, Todd Pugh, praised Stephenson for her “courage and integrity.”
“The judge listened to the evidence in the case … and she concluded that there never was a case here,” said Pugh, who condemned reporters for news coverage of the case. Continue Reading
Article Org: Chicago.suntimes.com