At least 16 Chicago police officers worked together to conceal or downplay their colleague’s murder of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager, a previously secret city watchdog report shows.
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shot McDonald in October 2014, sparking fury and widespread protests across the city. But documents describing the police department’s cover-up of that murder — including falsified police statements, the improper disposal of eyewitness statements, and a culture of silence among police — were withheld from the public for nearly three years.
Police claimed during that time that Van Dyke feared for his life and that McDonald was a threat, and fought to keep the city’s report from an internal investigation sealed.
The withheld report from that investigation, written in 2016, was finally released at the urging of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday.
Joseph Ferguson, the city’s inspector general, alleged in the newly released report that officers had widely engaged in falsifying statements to “exaggerate the threat McDonald posed.”
For example, Anthony Wojcik, a former lieutenant who was at the scene of McDonald’s death, improperly threw away statements from witnesses of the shooting and recreated police reports without checking with detectives for accuracy, according to the internal investigation.
Wojcik then retired from the department in May 2016, while the city was still investigating the police officers’ alleged misconduct. He was never charged with a crime.
Additionally, at least two other cops falsely reported after the shooting that they heard Van Dyke tell McDonald to drop a weapon multiple times, when they wouldn’t have been able to hear any part of the encounter from where they were standing. And four other cops either failed to record the events or improperly withheld video evidence.
The police department previously claimed that patrol cars were either facing away from the shooting — dashboard cameras automatically activate when a cop engages lights and sirens — or that audio was missing due to a technical problem.
Police dash-cam footage from the shooting, released in 2015, contradicted the cops’ version of events, sparking the city’s internal probe. The footage showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald as he walked away with a small knife, and then continuing to shoot even after the teen fell to the ground and lay dying. According to the report, McDonald was still breathing but officers failed to render aid or check for a pulse.
After officers viewed the damning dashcam footage of McDonald’s shooting years ago, they further justified the murder, alleged McDonald was dangerous, and continued to approve false police statements, according to Ferguson’s report.
Van Dyke, who refused to participate in the inspector general’s probe, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for second-degree murder earlier this year. Four police officers who were with Van Dyke that night — Richard Viramontes, Janet Mondragon, Stephen Franko, and Daphne Sebastian — were also fired this year over their alleged efforts to protect Van Dyke or obstruct justice, although they were never charged criminally.
Meanwhile, Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, and officers Thomas Gaffney and David March were found not guilty of engaging in a cover-up earlier this year. Walsh and March have since resigned.
The inspector general initially recommended the firing of 11 cops, including the high-ranking Chief of Detectives Eugene Roy and Deputy Chief David McNaughton, according to NBC News. He recommended discipline for four other officers he said were involved.
McNaughton was one of the officers to approve false police reports after watching the dashcam footage, according to the report. Roy also viewed the video but “let stand reports containing materially false statements and conclusions.” Both retired before they could face punishment.
Some of the allegations in the investigation were previously revealed years ago through documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune.
Cover: Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, left, at his sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on January 18, 2019. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)