Your NPR news source

Lightfoot Releases Records On Police ‘Cover-Up’ For Officer Who Killed Laquan McDonald

The Chicago mayor fulfills a campaign vow to disclose documents in the city’s probe of how CPD handled Officer Jason Van Dyke’s shooting.

SHARE Lightfoot Releases Records On Police ‘Cover-Up’ For Officer Who Killed Laquan McDonald
Laquan McDonald Dashcam Video Still

In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from Chicago Police dash-cam video, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being shot by officer Jason Van Dyke. On Wednesday Mayor Lori Lightfoot released records from the city inspector general’s investigation into a “cover-up” by police after the shooting. (Chicago Police Department via AP)


Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration Wednesday afternoon released thousands of pages of long-hidden records from the city’s investigation of an alleged cover-up for Jason Van Dyke, the officer sent to prison for killing Laquan McDonald in 2014.

The records consist of reports from Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommending discipline for 16 officers based on his office’s 2016-2017 probe into the police department’s handling of the shooting, recorded by a now-infamous dashcam video hidden from the public for more than a year by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration.

The release also includes scores of documents that accompanied Ferguson’s reports, largely fulfilling a Lightfoot campaign promise to release “all the attachments and the evidence” for the reports.

The 16 officers investigated include 11 officers that Ferguson recommended for dismissal in the alleged cover-up, four other officers he recommended for discipline for failing to ensure their dashboard cameras were working properly that night, and a Bureau of Detectives lieutenant who left the department before Ferguson issued a scathing report about his role in CPD’s investigation of the shooting.

The officers Ferguson recommended for firing include David McNaughton, a deputy chief of patrol at the time of the shooting, and Eugene Roy, a commander in the Bureau of Detectives. Both retired before facing any discipline.

McNaughton, according to a 28-page summary of his role, approved false police reports by officers even after he had watched the video, which contradicted key aspects of those reports.

“McNaughton, as a CPD supervisory member, was accountable for the actions of his subordinates, and his failure to be a neutral, objective arbiter when evaluating a police-involved shooting brought discredit to the department,” the report said.

In a 34-page summary report about Roy, Ferguson’s office said the commander “let stand reports containing materially false statements and conclusions despite viewing video of the shooting within hours of its occurrence and possessing ongoing knowledge of the investigation as it unfolded.”

Also included in the material released Wednesday are Ferguson reports on six patrol officers who were present during the shooting and reported that McDonald moved threateningly toward Van Dyke. Another report focuses on their supervisor, Sgt. Stephen Franko, who arrived minutes after the incident and signed off on many of the reports.

Thomas Gaffney, another officer present during the shooting, was among three officers charged criminally and acquitted for allegedly lying about the McDonald shooting. Those charges were based on police reports filled out by Gaffney.

The IG investigation found that it was Franko who instructed Gaffney to fill out the reports that eventually got him charged criminally. Ferguson’s office did not determine that Gaffney lied about the shooting. Instead they focused on his failure to ensure his in-car camera was working properly.

The newly released reports also indicate at least one whistleblower inside the police department raising concerns about the case. The summary report on Gaffney mentions an “Initiation Report” by Sgt. Sandra Soria, “which raises allegations of misconduct related to the in-car video systems of the vehicles that were present during the McDonald shooting.”

Other reports released to the public focus on Det. David March, CPD’s lead investigator for the shooting, his boss Sgt. Daniel Gallagher, and Lt. Anthony Wojcik, an officer one step higher in the chain of command.

Wojcik, according to Ferguson’s office, approved and helped craft March’s conclusions backing Van Dyke, who was sentenced in January after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery in the shooting.

The IG’s office, in a 37-page summary report about Wojcik’s role, accused him of bringing “discredit upon CPD by overseeing and participating in an untruthful, improperly documented, and unprofessional investigation of the shooting and by improperly disposing of material evidence during that investigation.”

In a report about March, the IG’s office said he made multiple false statements in his reports and lied to the Cook County coroner. In recommending March’s firing, the office wrote that the detective had “irrevocably tainted his credibility and has wholly disqualified himself from effectively executing core police functions.”

Before Wednesday’s release, journalists and researchers had been pressing for the records for more than three years. The journalists include Jamie Kalven, who first reported that McDonald was shot 16 times.

After Van Dyke’s sentencing and the acquittal of three officers charged with covering up for him, Ferguson in February called on the city to release the records and said that the public still did not know “the full story” about the shooting’s aftermath.

In March, Lightfoot told WBEZ that releasing the material would be a “priority” if she won the mayor’s race.

“There’s no justification for keeping those inspector general’s reports or anything else regarding the officers’ conduct behind closed doors and secret,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical that the city’s inspector general’s reports be fully released in their entirety, including all the attachments and the evidence.”

After Lightfoot took office, however, she denied a WBEZ request that sought the material under Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act. Her office sent a list of legal reasons for keeping the records secret — including a three-year-old gag order in Van Dyke’s murder case and a municipal code that limits public release of IG records.

Last month, the judge in Van Dyke’s case lifted that gag order and the City Council amended that municipal code. But the amendment, crafted by Lightfoot’s administration, includes numerous conditions and exceptions. And it leaves decisions on releasing IG investigation records entirely up to the mayor’s handpicked corporation counsel.

Officials of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents rank-and-file Chicago officers have criticized the amendment to the code and blasted Ferguson.

Read the documents

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration released documents organized by officer names. You can read them here:

Check back for updates on this story.

Chip Mitchell and Patrick Smith report on criminal justice for WBEZ. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1 and @pksmid.

The Latest
A report says US police departments face a three-fold crisis: an erosion of community trust, a violent-crime surge, and dwindling police staffing. Host: Mary Dixon; Reporter: Chip Mitchell
David Brown was appointed superintendent of the Chicago Police Department less than three years ago.
The governor says he is visiting “liberal cities” who he says are too soft on crime.
The Bureau of Prisons is shutting down a unit at its newest penitentiary in Illinois, following an investigation by NPR and The Marshall Project that exposed it was rife with violence and abuse.