On Thursday (Jan. 17), Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson acquitted three Chicago officers who were on trial for covering evidence behind Laquan McDonald’s shooting death, the Associated Press reports. The teenager was shot 16 times by former officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. The officers in question faced claims of burying the truth behind the shooting since dashcam footage contradicted the incident’s initial report. According to NPR, decades have passed in Chicago since an on-duty officer faced a murder charge for a shooting.
The officers, Joseph Walsh, David March, and Thomas Gaffney, were originally charged with official misconduct, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy. On the judge’s decision, Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes noted that this ruling should ignite a shift within police culture.
“We do hope that this has been a crack in the wall of the code of silence and that others will think twice about engaging in conduct that might land them in an investigation such as this,” Brown said per AP.
McDonald’s sister, Tariana, wrote a statement for The Chicago Tribune where she expressed her disappointment in the judge’s decision. “Words couldn’t explain how hurt I still am,” she said. “…Not only did I lose a brother, I lost my best friend. People don’t understand how I feel not to be able to talk to my brother, let alone see him again. That’s why I feel like justice should be served.”
At the time of the shooting, McDonald was said to have been acting “erratic” with a small knife in his hand. Van Dyke said he ordered the teen to drop the weapon. But according to video footage, McDonald was walking away from the police when he was gunned down in the back.
Van Dyke, who was found guilty of second-degree murder, will be sentenced on Friday (Jan. 18).