Two months after a jury found Officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, a judge decided that the police officers whose remarkably similar false accounts of the incident delayed justice for more than four years were not guilty of trying to cover up the murder, according to the Associate Press.
To be clear, the judge knew that former Detective David March, former Officer Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney filed false reports that seemingly absolved Van Dyke of any wrongdoing. Everyone who saw the video, including other police officers who testified, agreed that the footage conclusively showed that the cops, charged with official misconduct, obstructing justice and conspiracy, had lied.
Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson disagreed.
Citing the fact that McDonald’s body moved while Van Dyke was pumping it full of bullets, Stephenson noted that the video contradicted the police reports but that she could find no evidence of a conspiracy in the prosecution’s “weak case.”
“The entire Cook County legal system (is) corrupt,” McDonald’s great uncle told reporters, according to the Tribune. “This judge had made up her mind … to make sure these officers never saw the inside of a jail.”
On October 14, 2014, Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 14 seconds in the middle of a busy Chicago street. As soon as the shooting was over, police walked inside a nearby Burger King whose cameras covered the area of the shooting and asked the manager where they kept the video equipment. When police left after two hours, the manager told everyone that the cops had deleted the evidence and that 86 minutes of footage was missing from the recording.
In the absence of the surveillance video, three officers gave nearly identical statements, writing that Van Dyke shot McDonald after the teenager ignored verbal commands and continued to swing a knife. The officer’s statements all corroborated Van Dyke’s story that he shot McDonald 16 times because the boy kept trying to get up.
Then the video came out.
The Root’s Anne Branigin reports:
That dashcam shows Van Dyke shooting McDonald as he faced away from the officer—clearly posing no threat. It also shows Van Dyke continuing to unload round after round into McDonald’s body as he lay crumpled on the ground, unable to get up.
“Not a single police officer on the scene who wrote up a summary of what they saw said anything that can be reconciled with the video,” Michael Robbins, one of the attorneys representing McDonald, told NPR, adding that the move to cover up McDonald’s death was “instinctual” and “immediate.”
But the officers’ attorneys claim all they did was file paperwork with a few mistakes—and that it isn’t a crime to file an inaccurate police report, writes the Tribune.
The defense also claims that the meeting between officers hours after McDonald’s shooting was common practice after police shootings—which, frankly, shouldn’t make anyone feel better, especially given how departments around the country have come under increasing scrutiny for their conduct.
This is why it is impossible to believe there are good cops.
In the year between McDonald’s death and the release of the video, not a single one of the police officers who witnessed McDonald’s death stepped forward and accused Van Dyke of murder. Even now that he has been convicted, the officers of the Chicago Police Department still know that their code of silence is state-sanctioned and legally protected.
Maybe our president should build his wall out of that thin blue line that separates police officers from justice.
It is impenetrable.