The Blue Wall of Silence – Officers on Trial for Cover Up in Laquan McDonald Murder

Last month, officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty by a Chicago jury of murdering Laquan McDonald – second-degree murder and aggravated battery.

The jurors found that Van Dyke’s use of deadly force six seconds after leaving his vehicle was not justified. They also found that Van Dyke lied about the encounter afterwards – many of his statements, designed to paint a picture of a police officer acting reasonably in the face of a deadly threat, were demonstrably false and did not square with video of the murder.

But what about the other officers who repeated Van Dyke’s claims in their reports and who recorded lies in their official reports about what had happened? They are on trial now, in what is an unprecedented prosecution of the officers who helped to cover up Van Dyke’s crime.

The blue wall of silence is on trial in Chicago.

Laquan McDonald’s Murder

What happened to Laquan McDonald?

He was a potentially dangerous person with a knife – did officers have to shoot and kill him?

  • McDonald was pulled over by police officers (not Van Dyke);
  • McDonald slashed the tires of one of the patrol cars (Van Dyke was not present);
  • McDonald did not say anything – he did not threaten the officers verbally or respond to commands to drop the knife;
  • The first officer on scene said he did not see a need to use force;
  • During the stand-off, officers requested that an officer with a Taser respond to use non-lethal force;
  • Before the Taser arrived, Van Dyke arrived on scene – he remained in his vehicle for less than 30 seconds, and six seconds after exiting his vehicle he fatally shot McDonald.

None of the other seven officers present fired their weapons.

Van Dyke emptied his magazine – 16 rounds – into McDonald, including for 13 seconds as McDonald lay on the ground. Van Dyke was reloading to continue shooting when his partner told him to stop.

The Cover Up by Van Dyke’s Fellow Officers

After the shooting, Van Dyke and his fellow officers claimed in their official reports and in interviews that the shooting was justified. They insisted that:

  • McDonald acted aggressively towards the police and that he posed an immediate threat;
  • McDonald was approaching the officers, swinging the knife in an aggressive manner;
  • McDonald raised his right arm towards Van Dyke, as if attacking him;
  • Van Dyke and another officer, Walsh, were backing up as McDonald approached them; and
  • Van Dyke and other officers were injured in the incident.

The City refused to release the dashcam video of the incident for some time after the shooting. Why?

As it turns out, the video contradicts most of what the officers claimed happened at the scene. McDonald was not swinging the knife, and he did not have his arm raised towards Van Dyke. No officers were injured.

McDonald was not aggressively approaching the officers and they were not backing away – the officers were approaching McDonald as he backed away. Then, of course, there is the part where Van Dyke unloads 16 rounds into McDonald’s body, most of them while he is immobilized on the ground…

The lead detective on the case, Detective March, reviewed the officer’s statements and signed off on them – indicating that the statements were consistent with the video.

Although some officers have chosen to testify against their fellow officers, three, including March, are on trial now for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office.

Why is it a Bench Trial?

This probably isn’t obvious to most laypeople reading about the trial, but it may be a big deal that this is a bench trial and not a jury trial. Why is it a bench trial?

Trial lawyers know that you never, ever ask for a bench trial unless there is a very good reason. Why?

Judges sentence criminal defendants every day. After a few hundred or a few thousand guilty pleas and criminal trials, judges can become a bit jaded about the presumption of innocence. Many criminal trials come down to a swearing contest between a criminal defendant and a police officer – in general, judges are going to believe the cop and not the defendant.

In a typical criminal case, a bench trial = a guilty verdict.

It seems obvious why the defense would want a bench trial, though, in a case where police officers are on trial. Just last month, a jury convicted Van Dyke of murder. Jurors are more likely than a judge to disbelieve a police officer when evidence shows that they are lying. Judges, on the other hand, are more likely to bend over backwards to find that a police officer is credible.

So, why would the prosecutor agree to a bench trial in a case where police officers are on trial? Is the prosecutor playing the public with their bold talk about social justice and holding the police accountable for a cover up, all the while knowing that a judge is likely to acquit them? Is this a way to appease the masses and appease the police force at the same time?

Because I am naturally and automatically suspicious of prosecutors and police, I suspect that the prosecution agreed to a bench trial knowing full well that it was more likely to result in an acquittal.

The blue wall of silence is on trial in Chicago. But doesn’t that blue wall extend to prosecutors and judges as well?

Because it is a bench trial, I predict that the officers will be acquitted. Of course, I may be wrong on all counts. We will see.

SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Lexington, Columbia, and Myrtle Beach

Lacey Thompson is a SC criminal defense attorney with offices in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, SC. We only accept criminal cases.

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime in SC, or if you believe you are under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or send us an email to set up a free consultation about your case.

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