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Jason Van Dyke Lied, Refused To Cooperate With Probe While Other Officers Destroyed Evidence In Laquan McDonald’s Murder, City Watchdog Says

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson concluded in June 2016 that Van Dyke made “false reports, false statements and material omissions” in an effort to “exaggerate the threat McDonald posed."

Jason Van Dyke just after his 81-month sentence was announced.
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CITY HALL — Flexing new powers championed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and approved by the Chicago City Council, city officials Wednesday released new details about the investigation into former Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who murdered 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, and 15 officers accused of covering up the shooting.

Credit: Heather Cherone/The Daily Line
City Inspector General Joe Ferguson

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson concluded in June 2016 that Van Dyke made “false reports, false statements and material omissions” in an effort to “exaggerate the threat McDonald posed,” according to 6,000 pages of reports released by Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner after the City Council agreed last month to allow the public to see detailed reports of high-profile investigations.

Van Dyke also improperly refused to cooperate with Ferguson’s investigation into McDonald’s death, asserting his Constitutional right not to incriminate himself — even though he had been given immunity in order to allow him to participate in the inquiry.

Read the full report on Van Dyke.

It would be more than two years until a Cook County jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. The former officer is serving a nearly seven-year sentence.

Read all of the files released by the Law Department.

Ferguson launched his investigations after a judge in November 2015 ordered former Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release the dashcam video that showed Van Dyke shooting the teen in October 2014. Van Dyke shot McDonald, who was holding a knife, 16 times. Although police reports filed by Van Dyke and several other officers said McDonald was shot while advancing toward Van Dyke, the video showed those statements were false.

The graphic video set off a wave of protests that eventually toppled former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and sparked an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found the Police Department routinely violated the civil rights of Chicagoans by using excessive force.

Ferguson recommended that 11 officers be fired for their role in McDonald’s death. However, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson rejected that advice for one officer and allowed five others to resign or retire before they could be disciplined, according to the report.

Although most of the information released Wednesday has been public for years, the documents revealed that Ferguson uncovered evidence that officers “purposely destroyed evidence that ran counter to its findings” during the investigation of McDonald’s death.

In January, three officers — Thomas Gaffney, Joseph Walsh and David March — were acquitted of charges that they conspired to cover up McDonald’s murder.

In July, the Chicago Police Board voted to fire Sgt. Stephen Franko and Officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes.

The board agreed with Ferguson’s findings that the officers exaggerated the threat McDonald posed to Van Dyke and other officers.

The board found the three officers “failed in their duty” to provide truthful statements to investigators, “either by outright lying or by shading the truth,” according to the police board’s findings.

Deputy Chief David McNaughton

McNaughton, who was the on-call incident commander when McDonald was shot to death, should have been fired for approving false reports from several officers, Ferguson recommended. McNaughton also backed up Van Dyke’s false claim that McDonald “continued to approach” Van Dyke at the time of the shooting. McNaughton revised a statement released to the news media that included the false statement that McDonald “continued to approach” Van Dyke when he was shot, serving to establish a “false narrative” that McDonald attacked officers, according to the report.

McNaughton retired from the department.

Read the full report on McNaughton.

Bureau of Detectives Chief Eugene Roy

Roy, who was in charge of the investigation into McDonald’s death, should have been fired for failing to ensure investigators under his command filed truthful and objective reports, Ferguson recommended. In addition, Ferguson found Roy failed to take action even though he saw the video of the shooting and knew the reports exaggerated the threat posed by McDonald, according to Ferguson.

Roy retired from the department.

Read the full report on Roy.

Lt. Anthony Wojcik

Wojcik, who supervised some of the events that culminated in McDonald’s death, should have been fired for “overseeing and participating in an untruthful, improperly documented and unprofessional” investigation, Ferguson recommended. In addition, Wojcik made “false statements and misleading characterizations” that exaggerated the threat McDonald posed to Van Dyke and other officers, according to the report.

Wojcik also improperly disposed of handwritten reports made to document the statements of three civilian witnesses created on the night of the shooting, according to the report. Before disposing of those reports, Wojcik “personally recreated” the reports but did not ask the officers to verify the “recreated” reports for accuracy and did not tell those officers about the recreation until several months after the department closed its investigation into the shooting, Ferguson found. In addition, Wojcik failed to properly document the loss of three other “general progress” reports during the investigation that also documented the witnesses’ statements.

“Wojcik’s actions brought discredit upon the department because they created the appearance of impropriety: namely, that Wojcik and the investigative team purposely destroyed evidence that ran counter to its findings,” according to Ferguson’s report.

Ferguson would have recommended that Wojcik be fired, but he resigned in May 2016, before the investigation was completed, according to the report.

Read the full report on Wojcik.

Officer Joseph Walsh 

Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner and present at the time of the shooting, should have been fired for making false statements to investigators from CPD and the Independent Police Review Agency about the shooting, Ferguson recommended. In addition, Walsh failed to make sure that his police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and did not notify his supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

Walsh, who is no longer a member of the department, was acquitted of criminal charges.

Read the full report on Walsh.

Officer Janet Mondragon

Mondragon, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been fired for making false statements to investigators from CPD and the Independent Police Review Agency about the shooting, Ferguson recommended. In addition, Mondragon failed to make sure that her police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and did not notify her supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

Mondragon told investigators she did not remember or did not recall events approximately 145 times, according to the report.

After being fired by the Police Board, Mondragon is suing to get her job back.

Read the full report on Mondragon.

Officer Daphne Sebastian

Sebastian, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been fired for making false statements to investigators from CPD and the Independent Police Review Agency about the shooting, Ferguson recommended. In addition, Sebastian failed to make sure that her police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and did not notify her supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

After being fired by the Police Board, Sebastian is suing to get her job back.

Read the full report on Sebastian.

Sgt. Steven Franko

Ferguson urged Johnson to fire Franko for approving false reports filed by Van Dyke and Walsh, who were under his command, and for failing to ensure all of his officers had working cameras in their patrol vehicles.

After being fired by the Police Board, Franko is suing to get his job back.

Read the full report on Franko.

Sgt. Daniel Gallagher

Ferguson urged Johnson to fire Gallagher for making “false statements and misleading characterizations” in CPD reports that “served to exaggerate the threat posed by McDonald.” In addition, Gallagher did not ensure that the investigation of McDonald’s shooting was conducted in a “truthful, complete and objective” manner.

Gallagher resigned after the inspector general’s investigation.

Read the full report on Gallagher

Officer Dora Fontaine

Ferguson urged Johnson to fire Fontaine for making false statements about the shooting to police investigators “which served to materially mischaracterize the events leading up to the McDonald shooting, and to thereby bolster a false narrative, which might offer justification for the shooting.”

During the trial of Gaffney, Walsh and March, Fontaine testified for the prosecution, telling the judge that details in reports that were attributed to her were not accurate, including the statement that McDonald had assaulted Van Dyke.

Fontaine remains a police officer.

Read the full report on Fontaine.

Officer Frank Gaffney 

Gaffney, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been disciplined for failing to make sure that his police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and for not notifying his supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

The camera and microphone in his car did not record McDonald’s death.

Gaffney, who is no longer a police officer, was acquitted of criminal charges.

Read the full report on Gaffney.

Detective David March

March, who was assigned to investigate the shooting death of McDonald, made false statements in police department reports and to investigators from the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, and he failed to properly document his interviews of Van Dyke.

March, who resigned from the department, was acquitted of criminal charges.

Read the full report on March.

Officer Ricardo Viramontes

Viramontes, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been fired for making false statements to investigators from CPD and the Independent Police Review Agency about the shooting, Ferguson recommended.

After being fired by the Police Board, Viramontes is suing to get his job back.

Read the full report on Viramontes.

Officer Joseph McElligott

McElligott, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been disciplined for failing to make sure that his police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and for not notifying his supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

The camera and microphone in his car did not record McDonald’s death.

McElligott is no longer a Chicago police officer.

Read the full report on McElligott.

Officer Auturo Becerra

Becerra, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been disciplined for failing to make sure that his police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and for not notifying his supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

The camera and microphone in his car did not record McDonald’s death.

Becerra remains a police officer.

Read the full report on Becerra.

Officer Leticia Velez

Velez, who was present at the time of the shooting, should have been disciplined for failing to make sure that her police cruiser’s dashboard camera and audio recorder were working properly and for not notifying his supervisor that it was not working, according to Ferguson.

The camera and microphone in her car did not record McDonald’s death.

Velez remains a police officer.

Read the full report on Velez.