Laura Ashley Powell
A Chicago police officer has been found guilty of the murder of 16-year-old Laquan McDonald. Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second degree murder and is awaiting his sentence after shooting McDonald 16 times in 2015.
Numerous protests erupted after the incident came to light. What made the outcry greater was the fact that the police department refused to release the video footage of the shooting.
Three other Chicago police officers have been charged with lying to cover up Van Dyke’s story. These men—David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney—are an example of the “code of silence” within the police department that protesters have been speaking out against.
“We have to make an example of these officers,” said William Calloway, an activist who demanded that city officials release the video footage of the shooting. He also claimed that covering up unjust shootings has been a pattern within Chicago’s Police Department.
McDonald was killed on Oct. 20th, 2014. That night, Officer Gaffney and some other police officers followed McDonald for a few blocks and watched him use a pocket knife to pop the tire of a police car and slash the windshield.
At one point while the officers were following McDonald, Van Dyke appeared on the scene. When Van Dyke started shooting, McDonald had been walking away from the police officers. Even after he fell to the ground, VanDyke kept shooting.
In a court filing that was unsealed after Van Dyke’s verdict had been given, prosecutors claim that the cover-up by the group of police officers began as soon as the incident had occurred.
“As part of the conspiracy,” the prosecutors said, officers “failed to report or correct false information in official police reports” and “concealed the true facts of the events surrounding the killing of Laquan McDonald.”
The attorneys added that the officers involved did not interview the witnesses of the incident. Instead, the officers built up a false version of the story consisting of McDonald attempting to stab three different officers and, after being shot multiple times, trying to get back up. When the video footage was finally released, this version of the story was proven false.
At first, Van Dyke’s shooting of McDonald did not bring much attention from the national media. But after some time passed, the word got out that the Chicago Police Department was withholding video evidence in a police shooting case.
A judge ordered that the police department release the video to the public 13 months after the shooting. Hours before it was released, Van Dyke was charged with murder. Now, nearly three years later, Van Dyke has been convicted.
The three officers that have been charged with lying to cover up the incident are scheduled to stand trial starting Nov. 26. Their official charges are conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.
“These defendants lied about what occurred during a police-involved shooting in order to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth,” said Patricia Brown Holmes, a special prosecutor. “The indictment makes clear that it is unacceptable to obey an unofficial code of silence.”