Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

1 / 2
Rev. Marvin Hunter, Laquan McDonald's great-uncle, speaks to reporters on Jan. 17, 2019 in Chicago after a judge acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
2 / 2
Chicago police officer Thomas Gaffney, back left, sits next to ex-Officer Joseph Walsh, back right, former Detective David March listens to the judge's ruling, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Jan. 17, 2019 in Chicago. (Zbigniew Bzdak/ Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)
Updated 18 January 2019
0

Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

  • The black teenager’s shooting death in 2014 led to massive protests in the US
  • Last October, jurors convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery

CHICAGO: A judge on Thursday acquitted three Chicago officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of the black teenager’s death that led to protests, a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.
In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, Judge Domenica Stephenson seemed to accept many of the same defense arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery. He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.
“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions. His great uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal.”
“To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty.” He added: “It is a sad day for America.”
Prosecutor Ron Safer tried to put a positive spin on the verdict.
“This case was a case where the code of silence was on trial,” he said, referring to the long tradition that officers don’t report wrongdoing by their colleagues. “The next officer is going to think twice about filing a false police report. Do they want to go through this?“
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.
The shooting has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.
“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” activist Eric Russell said.
The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.
Officer Joseph Walsh, officer Thomas Gaffney and detective David March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.
After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half.”
In her ruling , the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.
“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.
The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.
The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.
The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different.” That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.
Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.
Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.
McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tire on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.
Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defense used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.
It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw,” March’s attorney, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”
The lawyers ridiculed the decision to charge the three officers, saying they merely wrote what they observed or, in March’s case, what the other officers told him they saw. And they said there was no evidence that the officers conspired to get their stories straight.
“The state wants you to criminalize police reports,” McKay bellowed at one point.
City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 — 13 months after the shooting — and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.
The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.
The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.


Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

Updated 47 min 36 sec ago
0

Call for Kashmir shutdown on Sunday in protest against crackdown on activists

  • India has beefed up security forces in Kashmir after last week's suicide attack in Pulwama
  • The attack, claimed by Kashmiri separatists, killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops

NEW DELHI: Separatist leaders in Kashmir have called for a shutdown on Sunday in protest against the “illegal detention” and “arbitrary arrest” of some of their colleagues and the deployment of an additional 12,000 troops in Kashmir valley.

In a strongly worded statement on Saturday the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called the arrest of the senior separatist leader Yasin Malik and the crackdown on 200 Jamaat-e-Islami cadres and leadership, including its chief Ameer Abdul Hamid Fayaz,  “dictatorial” and “arbitrary.”
It said that “nocturnal raids across the valley look to be a part of the continued policy of suppression of pro self-determination leadership and narrative.”
“The last 30 years have shown that jailing and intimidating activists and leaders will not deter them from their path, nor will it stop people from demanding the resolution of the Kashmir dispute through self-determination,” said a statement issued by Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik.
The separatist leaders also condemned the pressure tactics being used by the government against some of the local media.
Amid the crackdown on the valley-based separatist leaders New Delhi has also started deploying 12,000 additional troops in the valley.
“We are keeping two things in mind — to control the situation emerging out of the arrests of the separatist leaders and to be ready to hold elections in the valley parallel to the national elections,” a senior officials in Srinagar told Arab News.
After last week’s Pulwama suicide attack that claimed more than 40 lives of paramilitary personnel in South Kashmir, there has been a considerable build-up of troops in the valley. 
The crackdown on the separatists coincides with the crucial hearing on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court on Monday. The article grants special rights and privileges to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir, and has been challenged by a section of the Hindu right wing in the Supreme Court.
The nocturnal arrests of the activists and separatist leaders have come under criticism from the valley-based mainstream political parties.
“In the past 24 hours Hurriyat leaders and workers of the Jamaat organization have been arrested. Failure to understand such an arbitrary move which will only precipitate matters in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Mahbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
She questioned “under what legal grounds are their arrests justified? You can imprison a person but not his ideas.”
The ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)’s ally in the valley Sajad Lone also questioned the wisdom of the crackdown.
“Large-scale arrests took place in 1990. Leaders were ferried to Jodhpur and many jails across the country. Things worsened. This is a failed model. Please desist from it. It won’t work. Things will worsen,” said Lone in a tweet.
However, Dr. Hina Bhat of the BJP justified the arrest of the Hurriyat separatist leaders.
“If you want to bring peace in Kashmir it is important to remove all the ingredients which are causing disturbance in the state, be it separatist or Jamiat,” said Bhat, a Kashmir-based leader.
“Why you think we should go and talk to militants who are killing their own people. We are not killing these separatist leaders, we are just removing them from the scene.”
“We have tried and gave enough chances for the dialogue process with Pakistan. What happens is that when we trust Pakistan we are backstabbed and we cannot trust Pakistan for a dialogue process,” he added.
She told Arab News that “the government is taking appropriate steps to bring back peace and life in the state.”
“The militants in the state are brainwashed individuals and they pick up guns because of their personal reasons not to fight for the cause of Kashmir. Youth are being misguided and brainwashed by the separatist leaders for their political agenda. They work as the agents of Pakistan,” asserted Bhat.
Kashmir-based analyst Professor Siddiq Wahid said that “Delhi is practicing a cynical policy at its best.”
“In the last 24 hours, the fog has cleared and it is becoming apparent that the BJP is spinning Pulwama in the interests of electoral politics. Their war-cry was to isolate Pakistan, so it has not succeeded because international support for this is non-existent. Yet it has successfully stirred the BJP base,” added Wahid.
He told Arab News that “Delhi continues its policy of denial of dispute and at the same time making the Kashmiri eminently more insecure in India. It is disastrous.”