CHICAGO (CBS) — The city has released Inspector General Joe Ferguson’s reports on the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014, detailing his investigation of the case, including his recommendations for disciplinary action for Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was later convicted of McDonald’s murder, and 15 other officers accused of trying to cover up the shooting.
The reports are expected to shed new light on how the city’s top watchdog says the officers tried to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who has since been convicted of second-degree murder for fatally shooting McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014.
This reports were completed in 2016 but the city barred its release because of confidentiality laws. Last month, the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance that would allow for the release of some reports when they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”
RELATED: Read All 16 Reports Here
The city’s attorneys have since spent weeks reviewing Ferguson’s reports on the McDonald case, making sure there is no information that the city is legally prohibited from releasing, and redacting any information that must remain private.
Ferguson had recommended firing 12 officers and suspending four others for their roles in trying to cover up the McDonald shooting. Police Supt. Eddie Johnson spared one of the officers the inspector general recommended be fired; seven others resigned or retired before facing discipline; and four others – Sgt. Stephen Franko; and officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian, and Ricardo Viramontes – were fired by the Chicago Police Board in July.
In January, three other current and former Chicago Police officers were acquitted of criminal charges accusing them of conspiring to cover up the circumstances of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014 in an effort to protect fellow officer Jason Van Dyke. Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson found former officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and ex-detective David March not guilty of felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct.
CBS 2 is reviewing the 16 reports from Ferguson’s office, and will have live updates online this afternoon on what we find:
Among the most damning findings in the report, the OIG said Lt. Anthony Wojcik, who supervised the investigation of the shooting, improperly disposed of three reports containing detectives’ handwritten notes on the case, and failed to ensure the investigative team documented the loss of three additional reports.
The inspector general’s office said it would have recommended his firing, but Wojcik resigned after the investigation began
When investigators tried to interview him, they were informed he had retired. They tried to subpoena him, but his attorneys objected to the subpoena. When a judge denied Wojcik’s motion to dismiss the subpoena, Wojcik’s attorneys informed OIG he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The report recommended the department fire Sgt. Stephen Franko for approving false reports submitted by subordinates and failing to take action when he found out their cameras weren’t working. Officers under Franko‘s supervision had inserted the batteries into their dashcam microphones upside down, which a video technician told investigators was “a known way to get around… the microphones.”
Franko approved four reports by Van Dyke and Walsh in which they reported McDonald was swinging a knife. Fontaine also personally submitted a report in which he said Van Dyke was “injured by offender,” according to the reports.
In interviews with the OIG, he repeatedly stated he did not assist Van Dyke or other officers in filling out their forms. He later said Van Dyke didn’t indicate that he had been injured, and neither did any officer from the scene. He also acknowledged later that the video does not show any sort of “attack with weapon,” as was indicated on the reports.
The reports fault several officers at the scene for failing to make sure their dashboard cameras were working properly. For example, the report found Officer Joseph McElligott and his partner Thomas Gaffney failed to activate their car’s dashcam. While the report conceded the officers were not aware of a disc error on the camera while it was processing a very large video recorded earlier, they failed to follow proper procedure by not attaching the camera’s microphones.
The report stated that failure to do so “prevented CPD from collecting potentially important, objective, technology-based evidence of the McDonald shooting.”
“A functioning in-car video system is critical to CPD’s efforts to maintain accountability for its officers. That accountability, in turn, fosters the public’s trust in CPD. When accountability mechanisms fail, as they did in the present case, where only one of the five CPD vehicles present at the shooting captured video of the actual shooting and none of those vehicles captured audio, the public can lose faith in CPD’s commitment to accountability,” the report added.
McElligott and Gaffney were the initial officers who responded to a report that McDonald had tried to break into a truck, which kicked off the whole incident. McElligott followed McDonald on foot while Gaffney followed in their car. They did not actually see the shooting, just heard it, after McDonald started running.
The OIG report recommended both McElligott and Gaffney face unspecified discipline “commensurate with the seriousness of his misconduct, his discipline history, and department standards.”
Meantime, Officers Arturo Becerra and Leticia Velez were faulted for failing to notify their supervisors when they found out at the start of their shifts the night of the shooting that their dashcam was not working, because of power issues. The officers told the sergeant responsible for retrieving dashcam footage of the shooting that their camera’s “power had been going on and off,” but they hadn’t notified a supervisor of the malfunction as required.
As a result of the failure to properly operate dashcams, the officers forced investigators to rely on “subjective, unrecorded” oral accounts of the shooting, rather than objective video evidence.
The OIG report accuses Sgt. Daniel Gallagher of working with Detective David March and Lt. Anthony Wojcik on a false report of the shooting in the days before it was submitted. That report said McDonald was swinging the knife in an aggressive manner just before Van Dyke shot him, which McDonald wasn’t, and that Van Dyke ordered him to drop the knife, which Van Dyke didn’t do.
Gallagher was March’s supervisor.
“Gallagher’s failure to ensure that Detective March conducted a complete, thorough, properly documented, and professional investigation constitutes incompetence in the performance of his duties,” the report stated. “A supervisory member who has made, reviewed, or approved false statements in an official investigation has irrevocably tainted not only his credibility, but also the credibility of CPD—and also fails to promote CPD’s goal of employing officers with personal integrity and professional devotion to law enforcement.”
Officer Daphne Sebastian, who was in the squad car that recorded the infamous video of the shooting, was fired earlier this year, after the OIG recommended she be discharged for making false statements and material omissions in her interviews with CPD detectives and the Independent Police Review Authority.
“Sebastian’s false statements all served a similar purpose: to materially exaggerate the threat McDonald posed to Van Dyke and Walsh,” the report stated.
The report also faulted Sebatian for failing to attach the dashcam’s microphones to make sure it was recording sound, as well as video, noting investigators determined the microphones “were in the glove compartment with the batteries turned upside down.”
The OIG report determined Van Dyke lied and made many omissions during the investigation of the shooting, and recommended he be immediately fired.
The report noted Van Dyke broke CPD rules by refusing to cooperate with the OIG investigation after being properly called upon to to do so, and directly ordered by a superior officer, by refusing to answer OIG’s questions.
OIG: Officer Van Dyke lied during his interviews with CPD & IPRA. His “false reports, false statements and material omissions all served to exaggerate the threat McDonald posed.” @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/DMB4FPvw3t
— Megan Hickey (@MeganHickeyTV) October 9, 2019
The reports also extensively document the lies and omissions that Van Dyke made:
- Van Dyke lied when he told both detectives and the Independent Police Review Authority that McDonald advanced toward him after he ordered McDonald to drop his knife;
- Van Dyke lied when he said McDonald raised his knife across his chest and over his shoulder, and pointed it at police. “Dashcam video evidences that at no time during the period when Van Dyke and Walsh were outside their vehicle did McDonald raise the knife across his chest and over his shoulder and point the knife at Van Dyke.”;
- Van Dyke falsely claimed he backpedaled before shooting McDonald, when the video clearly showed him advancing toward McDonald before shooting him;
- Van Dyke lied when he claimed McDonald tried to get up after he was shot, contrary to the video which shows McDonald never moved his legs or lower body after he collapsed;
- Van Dyke lied when he claimed McDonald was attacking him and attempting to kill him with the knife;
The report also recommended Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, be fired for making similar false statements.
“Walsh’s actions embody the ‘code of silence’ that has no legitimate place in CPD and are contradictory to CPD’s stated values and official policies,” the report stated.
OIG: “Van Duke failed to cooperate with the OIG’s investigation.”
— Megan Hickey (@MeganHickeyTV) October 9, 2019
The reports recommended the department fire Deputy Chief David McNaughton, who was the ranking officer on the scene after the shooting. OIG investigators determined McNaughton approved false statements from Van Dyke and two others regarding the shooting, claiming that McDonald “continued to approach” Van Dyke after he got out of his squad car, even though McNaughton had seen the dashboard camera video that contradicted those statements.
He also checked a box the box in Van Dyke’s tactical response report, stating he’d concluded the shooting was justified, rather than the box indicating “further investigation is required,” according to the report.
“McNaughton stated that checking that box ‘means absolutely nothing,'” the report stated.
The OIG report also found McNaughton provided a false statement to CPD News Affairs when he revised a preliminary public statement on the shooting to say McDonald “continued to approach” Van Dyke after being ordered to drop his knife.
“McNaughton’s creation and endorsement of those false statements all served to establish a false narrative that McDonald initiated an attack on Van Dyke and Walsh. Throughout McNaughton’s OIG interview, he attempted to explain his viewpoint—offering a clearly incorrect interpretation of the 813R dashcam video. McNaughton’s attempts to justify his actions in his OIG interview continued his endorsement of the materially false narrative, which cannot be excused,” the report stated.
The report also noted that McNaughton mischaracterized the footage on the video, stating that when he saw McDonald hitch up his pants on the video, he saw that as an “aggressive act” and an indication that McDonald “is going to fight.”
“The moment McNaughton characterized as the trigger for the assault—when McDonald hitched up his pants and presented the knife—occurred when Van Dyke and Walsh were still in their moving vehicle,” the report stated.
Ferguson’s office recommended Officer Dora Fontaine be fired for making false statements, but Supt. Eddie Johnson rejected that recommendation.
Fontaine claimed she heard Van Dyke order McDonald to drop his knife, and saw McDonald ignore him before Van Dyke opened fire, but the report determined Van Dyke didn’t tell McDonald to drop the weapon before he started shooting.
According to the report, Fontaine’s partner, Officer Ricardo Viramontes, contradicted Fontaine’s statements, claiming he couldn’t have heard Van Dyke order McDonald to drop his knife before he started shooting, because Fontaine and Viramontes were still in their squad car at the time.
The inspector general’s summary report regarding March, the detective who was assigned to investigate the shooting, investigators took him to task for failing to take detailed notes of his initial interview of Van Dyke and his partner, Joseph Walsh.
“March declined to document in any form his first conversation with Van Dyke at the scene of the shooting, during which Van Dyke, according to March, provided a lengthy, detailed description of the events that culminated in his shooting of McDonald,” the report stated. “There is little justification for March’s failure to make a record of his lengthy investigative interviews of the person who was responsible for that police-involved shooting.”
The report also noted, even when confronted with dashboard camera footage that contradicted Van Dyke’s and Walsh’s claims that McDonald lunged at them with a knife while they were backing away from him, March stood by his claims that the officers were forced to shoot McDonald because he was threatening them.
“March’s violations constituted a knowing exaggeration of the threat posed by McDonald and established the false narrative that a backpedaling Van Dyke was forced to shoot an onrushing McDonald, while he was “lunging” at Van Dyke and Walsh with a knife,” the report stated. “March’s refusal to recognize the lack of backpedaling on the relevant videos reflects his inability or unwillingness to objectively view the evidence.”
“A detective who has made false statements in an official investigation has irrevocably tainted not only his credibility, but also the credibility of CPD—and also fails to promote CPD’s goal of employing individuals with personal integrity and professional devotion to law enforcement,” the report added. “March was the critical touchstone to a hub and spoke manufacturing of a manifestly false narrative that has resulted in grievous reputation harm to the Department and with it, injury to the reputation of its thousands of conscientious professional sworn personnel.”