Three Chicago PD officers found not guilty of cover-up in Laquan McDonald murder

Three Chicago police officers were found not guilty by a Cook County judge of trying to cover up the actions of Officer Jason Van Dyke in the murder of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder in the slaying, which was recorded on a police dash cam.

The officers were accused of falsifying official records and conspiracy.  The judge, Cook County associate judge Domenica Stephenson, ruled after a five-day bench trial last month that the prosecutor had failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.


Todd Pugh, the attorney for Walsh, told reporters the judge displayed "courage and integrity" in her ruling.

"There never was a case here," Pugh said, "despite all of the interest that all you have, there never ever was a case."

Walsh told reporters the ordeal had been "heart-wrenching."

"Heartbreaking for my family," he said.  "A year-and-a-half."

Stephenson spent an hour going point-by-point to explain how the prosecution had fallen short of proving its claims.

Part of the prosecution's case relied on allegations that officers gave the same details in their incident reports, details that were contradicted by dashcam footage.

But Stephenson said the footage did not show the perspectives of all the officers on the scene, so it could not be definitively said that the comments they made in their reports were not consistent with what they saw, even if it differed from the video.

All the evidence needed to be taken into account, Stephenson said, and to say that discrepancies between the officers' accounts and the video pointed to a conspiracy was "nothing more than speculation."

Second City Blog, a prolific, anonymous blog run by members of the Chicago Police Department, has an explanation for why the judge ruled as she did:

Detectives document what they are told by witnesses.  Witnesses – especially in a dynamic, fast moving, widespread scene – have different perspectives (they weren't all standing behind the same camera), and documenting those different perspectives is neither a conspiracy nor a code of anything.

Obviously, the family of Laquan McDonald was not pleased with the verdict:

After the verdict, Marvin Hunter, McDonald's great uncle, said he was surprised by the verdict, and that it spoke to his belief that the Cook County criminal justice system was "corrupt."

"This is not justice," Hunter said, adding that he hoped there would not be a similarly disappointing outcome in Van Dyke's sentencing, which is slated for Friday.

The politics that infected this entire tragic affair was due exclusively to city officials reacting to community outrage over the death of McDonald.  Politicians knew that the video looked very bad and made a political decision not to release it.  It only made the situation worse.  Community leaders accused everyone from the mayor on down of a cover-up, and the ill feelings that spread across the city toward the Chicago police turned the incident into a major crisis.

The autopsy report on McDonald shows that the teen – armed only with a pocketknife – was shot 16 times.  A CPD board originally ruled the shooting justified.  I think most reasonable people – even without all the facts – might conclude that Van Dyke's actions were criminal or at least excessive.  He will be sentenced later today.