CHICAGO – A Chicago police officer and two former officers pleaded not guilty Monday to conspiring to cover up what happened the night a white officer killed a black teenager by shooting him 16 times.
Joseph Walsh, David March and Thomas Gaffney were indicted last month on charges stemming from the 2014 death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
The indictment alleges the trio quickly coordinated their stories to protect officers and lied when they said Laquan aggressively swung a knife and tried to get up, while still armed, after he was shot.
But police dashcam video showed the teen was walking away from officers with a small knife by his side when he was shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke, who has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder. The video — which wasn't publicly released until a year after the shooting — also showed that Laquan was spun to the ground as Van Dyke repeatedly shot him in quick succession.
The judge freed Walsh, March and Gaffney on their own recognizance during Monday's arrangement hearing, which marked their first court appearance in the case, and ordered they be finger printed. If convicted, the men could face a five-year-prison sentence for the official misconduct charge alone.
In a statement released with the indictment, the special prosecutor appointment to the case, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the officers and others "coordinated their activities to protect each other and other members of the Chicago Police Department." She said the officers went so far as to ignore contrary evidence and failed to try to interview key witnesses.
Walsh and March, who as a detective concluded the shooting was justified, have left the department. Gaffney is still on the force but, per department policy, was suspended because of the felony indictment.
The indictment wasn't a surprise, given a special prosecutor was appointed last year to investigate and the city's police superintendent announced he was pushing to have seven officers fired for what they wrote in their reports.
Still, such charges are rare against law enforcement officers, and the indictment was especially jarring because it revealed a concerted effort to create a narrative to protect Van Dyke.