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'Code Of Silence': 3 Officers Indicted In Alleged Laquan McDonald Cover-Up

By  Erica Demarest and Lizzie Schiffman Tufano | June 27, 2017 1:58pm | Updated on June 27, 2017 5:02pm

 Three officers who claimed to have witnessed the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald are accused of lying about the shooting and misleading those investigating it.
Three officers who claimed to have witnessed the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald are accused of lying about the shooting and misleading those investigating it.
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DOWNTOWN — In a strike against the Chicago Police Department's "code of silence," a grand jury has indicted three Chicago police officers on charges of conspiracy, obstruction and misconduct in the October 2014 slaying of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

The special prosecutor assigned to the explosive case — a separate probe from Van Dyke's murder trial — announced the indictment Tuesday, saying the three officers on the scene with Van Dyke lied, failed to interview witnesses and misled other investigators to hide what happened that night.

"It is unacceptable to obey an unofficial code of silence," special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said at a Downtown news conference at 69 W. Washington St.

Detective David March and patrol officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney each face felonies for their alleged role in a cover-up surrounding the controversial case. Each faces multiple years in prison if indicted on the state charges. None was arrested, but all three will have to appear at an arraignment July 10 at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave.

“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’" Holmes said, "rather it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth."

RELATED: Grand Jury To Probe Officers At Laquan McDonald Scene, Judge Rules

March, 58, was a Chicago Police officer for more than 30 years, according to Holmes. Walsh, 48, and Gaffney, 43, both worked in the department for roughly 20 years.

According to a spokesperson with the Chicago Police Department, only Gaffney was still currently employed as an officer. He will be suspended without pay until his felony case is resolved.

The grand jury investigation, which began last year, is still ongoing, Holmes said. Additional officers could still face felony charges.

In a statement Tuesday, police union President Kevin Graham said, "The FOP [Fraternal Order of Police union] learned today that three officers, active and former, were indicted by Special Prosecutor Patricia Holmes in connection with the Laquan McDonald case. At this time, we have not reviewed the indictment and, as general practice, we do not comment on ongoing investigations."

According to the indictment, March, Walsh, Gaffney and an unnamed fourth person identified as "Individual A" conspired immediately after the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting to "conceal the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of LaQuan [sic] McDonald ... to shield their fellow officer (identified only as Individual A) from criminal investigation and prosecution."

Obstruction alleged against the officers in the indictment includes "mischaracterizing the video recordings" of the incident and lying about the events leading up to the shooting, according to a release from Brown's office.

Cook County Judge LeRoy K. Martin, Jr. ruled in September to convene a grand jury to hear evidence against the Chicago police officers on the scene with Van Dyke the night McDonald was killed.

Van Dyke, 39, is free on bond for charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct. He is next slated to appear in court Wednesday, where March is expected to testify about statements made the evening McDonald was killed.

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson moved last fall to have Van Dyke and several other officers fired over allegations they lied after the shooting of McDonald.

The teen had been stealing truck radios and was armed with a 3-inch blade on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a radio request for a Taser, prosecutors have said.

Van Dyke and his partner responded to the call, but never specified whether they had a Taser. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Van Dyke pulled his gun and emptied his clip into McDonald, shooting him 16 times. Video of the shooting, which was released via a court order in November 2015, sparked citywide protests that shut down the Mag Mile.

Holmes is no stranger to high-profile cases, having previously been appointed the trustee to handle the aftermath of the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal, in which cemetery workers were convicted of desecrating bodies in suburban Alsip. She is a Far South Side native who previously worked as a federal prosecutor, defense attorney and judge.