CHICAGO (CBS) — Two former Chicago police officers and one current officer pleaded not guilty Monday morning to charges they conspired to cover up the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDdonald.
Former Detective David March, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and suspended Officer Thomas Gaffney made their first court appearance Monday after they were indicted last month on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct. They stand accused of trying to “prevent or shape” an independent probe of McDonald’s shooting on Oct. 20, 2014.
The most serious charge, obstruction of justice, carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
The three pleaded not guilty and were allowed to go free on $50,000 recognizance bonds, meaning they only need to post bail if they miss a court date. All three also must submit fingerprints before leaving court.
March, 58; Walsh, 48; and Gaffney, 43; were due back in court on Aug. 29.
March was the lead detective who ruled Officer Jason Van Dyke was justified in shooting McDonald 16 times as police were responding to reports the teen was slashing tires near 41st and Pulaski. Walsh was Van Dyke’s partner. Both have retired from the force. Gaffney was one of the officers at the scene of the shooting, and has been suspended by the department.
The indictments against the three were announced last month by special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes, who has been appointed to investigate whether other officers at the scene tried to cover up the circumstances of the shooting. Holmes’ office said that investigation continues.
Another special prosecutor, Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon, is handling the murder case against Van Dyke.
Walsh’s attorney said, although he’s concerned about the possibility of getting a fair trial with such a high-profile case, he believes his client will be found not guilty.
“All we’re hoping for at the end of the day is we receive a fair hearing, and I think we are very confident that Mr. Walsh will be acquitted of these charges,” attorney Thomas M. Breen said.
Breen said it has been “extremely difficult” for Walsh to face criminal charges.
“It’s the flip of the coin. He has been on the other side so often, and he has worked the streets and protected the public, he has made arrests, he has participated in convictions, and today he finds himself on the other side of that. It’s a frightening position. I’m hoping his family and he can get through it,” he said.
The arraignments for Walsh, March, and Gaffney came after Judge Mary Margaret Brosnahan recused herself from the case, which was then reassigned to Judge Diane Gordon Cannon. Brosnahan gave no reason for removing herself from the case.
According to the indictment, the three officers conspired shortly after the shooting “to conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald … to shield their fellow officer (identified only as Individual A) from criminal investigation and prosecution.”
“The defendants allegedly lied about what occurred and mischaracterized the video recordings so that independent criminal investigators would not learn the truth about the killing and the public would not see the video recordings,” Holmes’ office said.
The officers are accused of conspiring to protect each other and other officers by falsifying police reports to portray Van Dyke and themselves as victims of an assault by McDonald, and ignoring any information or evidence that contradicted their story.
According to the official police report of the shooting, Walsh said McDonald had advanced at Van Dyke, and was swinging a knife in an “aggressive manner” and “was attacking Van Dyke…with knife attempting to kill (him).”
However, that statement is contradicted by dashcam video of the shooting, which shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald just seconds after getting out of his squad car, while McDonald is walking away from him. The video does not show McDonald swinging the knife at Van Dyke.