As Police Cover-Up Verdict Looms, Civil Rights Lawyer Asks Why Bosses Weren’t Charged
At the trial of three Chicago police officers charged with a cover-up in Laquan McDonald’s killing, prosecutors said the evidence of a conspiracy includes police statements claiming the teen attacked Jason Van Dyke and his patrol partner.
One of those statements is an email attachment called “Conclusion” that summarizes the police findings about the shooting: “The above to-date investigation determined that (Laquan) McDonald was an active assailant who … initiated imminent use (of) force likely to cause death or serious injury when he initiated an attack on Officers Jason Van Dyke and Joseph Walsh.”
A lieutenant named Anthony Wojcik emailed “Conclusion” to Detective David March, according to court records and trial testimony. That same day, a formal report about the police investigation ended with a near-verbatim version of “Conclusion.” That report was submitted by March and approved by Wojcik.
A police dashcam video of the shooting showed that McDonald did not attack Van Dyke and Walsh. After the city released the video, Patricia Brown Holmes was appointed special prosecutor and tasked with investigating the alleged cover-up.
Holmes guided a grand jury that indicted March, Walsh, and Officer Thomas Gaffney on charges of obstruction of justice, official misconduct, and conspiracy. The trial judge has scheduled the verdict for Jan. 15.
But there have been no charges against police bosses, not even Wojcik, one of several officials Holmes has accused of using “various means to misrepresent, conceal, and hide the activities of the conspiracy, and to avoid detection.”
Now, a civil-rights attorney who helped get Holmes appointed to the case says it puzzles him that she prosecuted March but not Wojcik.
That attorney, Locke Bowman, told WBEZ there is “every reason to suggest that the commanding officer was an active participant in the creation of the narrative at odds with the videotape.”
Bowman helped write a 2016 court filing that led judges to consider having special prosecutors for Van Dyke’s murder case and for a criminal investigation of any cover-up. Bowman later recommended Holmes and three others as candidates.
Bowman’s concerns go beyond the lack of prosecution of Wojcik. He said he does not understand why Holmes’ team “chose to make the line officers the sacrificial fall guys for a code of silence — a conspiracy that was clearly participated in all the way up the chain into the executive suites of the police department.”
Holmes’ focus on rank-and-file officers also bothers some cops.
“There seems to be a safety net for bosses,” said a veteran West Side patrol officer who spoke on condition he not be named because he did not have CPD permission to make public statements on the case. “It certainly makes it difficult for police officers to feel that they’ll get a fair shake.”
That officer said the lack of police superiors among the trial’s defendants has been a drag on officer morale.
Sources close to Holmes’ investigation say a major barrier to prosecuting police bosses was Garrity v. New Jersey, a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that protects public employees from self-incrimination on a boss’ orders.
Her team might have lacked access to statements that officers made to city investigators, including the ones under Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, who recommended dismissal of 11 officers for alleged misconduct in the case.
Once the trial is over, Bowman said, the public deserves to hear from Holmes.
“She needs to provide us all with an accounting of why the work that she did didn’t progress further into ranks of the police department,” he said.
A spokesman for Holmes pointed to the trial’s verdict next month and said it would be “improper” for the special prosecutor to comment now.
Wojcik’s lawyer insists the lieutenant, who retired in 2016, did nothing wrong in the police department’s investigation.