Two Chicago police officers whose official accounts of a 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager by white Officer Jason Van Dyke contradict parts of a squad-car video have been put on desk duty until investigations are complete.
Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Joseph Walsh, and a detective who found the shooting justified, David March, retain their police powers but can no longer work on the street in any operational role, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Dashcam video released Nov. 24 shows Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times as he walks away from police officers with a knife at his side. The footage prompted weeks of protests in Chicago, the sacking of the police superintendent and demands for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. Van Dyke has been charged with murder in the shooting and has pleaded not guilty.
The shooting has turned a spotlight on longstanding concerns about a “code of silence” in the police department, in which officers stay quiet about or even cover up possible misconduct by colleagues.
The president of the Chicago Police Board, which oversees disciplinary actions against police, addressed that code this week.
“Those officers who are doing their jobs the right way must be responsible not only for themselves, but for their partners and colleagues who have gone astray,” Lori Lightfoot said in a speech at the City Club of Chicago on Tuesday. “They cannot bear witness to misconduct by others, turn a blind eye and believe that all is well.”
Asked in a phone interview Friday about Walsh and March being taken off the street, a spokesman for Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante said he will terminate “any officer found guilty of lying or misrepresenting the facts” following federal and administrative investigations of the McDonald case.
Included among hundreds of documents released publicly by the city on Dec. 4 were accounts by Walsh and March in which they describe the 17-year-old McDonald advancing on police and waiving the knife threateningly at them right before Van Dyke fired — accounts that portray the teenager as far more menacing than he appears in the video.
In a hand-written account on Oct. 20, 2014 — within hours of the shooting — Walsh wrote that McDonald “swung (the) knife” at Van Dyke, adding that he was convinced McDonald was “attempting to kill” his partner. He also says McDonald kept trying to get up.
The video belies those accounts.
In it, Van Dyke is seen stepping from a squad car driven by Walsh and shooting almost immediately. After one or two shots, McDonald collapses barely moving except for slight twitches as bullets pummel his body. Court filing by prosecutors say all but a few of the 16 shots hitting McDonald were fired over 13 seconds as he lay in the street. The 3-inch blade was found folded into the handle.
A report submitted by March months later appeared to take officers’ accounts at face value and concluded that McDonald had been “an active assailant” armed with “a dangerous weapon.” On that basis, he deemed Van Dyke’s decision to shoot was justified.
Guglielmi said Escalante put March and Walsh on desk duty on the recommendation of the Chicago Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson in mid-December. The office is the city’s internal watchdog and its recommendation isn’t binding. The Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates police-involved shootings, referred the case to the inspector general.
Guglielmi said Friday he didn’t know the basis of the inspector general’s recommendation nor whether it cited the reports that appeared to contradict the video.
“Officer Walsh is currently assigned to desk duties within the 8th district and Detective March has been removed from all current investigations within the Bureau of Detectives,” his earlier statement said.
Records show that Walsh and March have been called at least twice to appear before a federal grand jury investigating McDonald’s death. The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from police union president, Dean Angelo Sr., who has spoken on behalf of rank-and-file officers in the past.