CHICAGO (CBS) — Three Chicago police officers have been found not guilty of a cover-up in the case of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.
The ruling came in the bench trial for former and current Chicago Police Officers David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney. All were acquitted of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice in the Laquan McDonald shooting investigation.
Former Detective David March, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Gaffney and former officer Joseph Walsh appear at a pre-trial hearing at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Oct. 30, 2018. Prosecutors have laid out their case against the three Chicago police officers accused of participating in a cover-up of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. The trial of officers charged with lying in their reports to protect Van Dyke is set to begin on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool File)
“We followed the evidence we were allowed to have at our disposal,” said Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes. “We followed the evidence where it went. We believe we brought a credible case.”
Defense attorney James McKay blasted that claim.
“David March, Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney are innocent men,” March’s attorney James McKay said. “They never should have been here. Ever.”
“Heart-wrenching. Heartbreaking for my family,” Walsh said as he described the impact on his life.
He and his two co-defendants were accused of trying to cover up former police officer Jason Van Dyke’s role in McDonald’s death in the days and weeks following the shooting.
CBS 2 legal analyst Irv Miller agrees with the verdict.
“I don’t believe there’s a cover-up in this particular case based upon the evidence that I’ve seen,” Miller said. “And I’ve read all the police reports, and I’ve read the indictment, and I watched the entire trial.”
“There’s a lot of people out there that aren’t buying it,” said Jeff Neslund, attorney for Laquan McDonald’s estate. “Absolutely including me because there was a cover-up from day one.”
He questions the prosecution’s handling of the case from who was charged to who took the stand.
“Officer Gaffney, I don’t understand why he was prosecuted at all,” Neslund said. “They didn’t call civilian witnesses, in my opinion, and our investigation showed that were brought to that police station, separated in different rooms, intimidated, yelled at, told to change their story.”
But Neslund and Miller agree that despite the verdict, this case is another step towards dismantling the so-called police code of silence.
“With the Van Dyke trial, the changes that are in place, I don’t think we’re going to go backwards,” Neslund said.
Miller says the verdict for the three officers has “nothing” to do with the upcoming sentencing of Van Dyke.
The president of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police is applauding the verdict and commending the judge.
“Her courage should be an inspiration to other judges in high profile cases,” Kevin Graham said. “Officers spent their careers in law enforcement, and we have seen their names dragged through the mud. Trumped up case.”
Officer Thomas Gaffney’s reinstatement to the department is imminent, a CPD spokesperson confirmed.
Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing begins at 9 a.m. Friday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.