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23 Chicago police officers called to testify on fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald

Newly released records show that nearly two dozen Chicago Police Department employees have been called to testify before a federal grand jury investigating the Laquan McDonald shooting, including the lead detective in the case and four officers whose initial accounts are at odds with a dashboard camera video that has sparked protests across the city.

Officers first began appearing before the grand jury in June, and they were still making appearances as recently as two days before Christmas, according to the records, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Three officers have been called more than once.

The records — released after weeks of delay — offer the first look at how far the secret grand jury proceedings have reached into the police force, which has been under fire since the release of the video showing an officer shooting the 17-year-old McDonald in October 2014.

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Being called to the grand jury does not necessarily indicate that the witnesses are suspected of wrongdoing.

Cook County prosecutors on Nov. 24 charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with murder and official misconduct for shooting McDonald 16 times as he appeared to be walking away. Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty, and suggested in police reports that he feared for his life when opening fire.

The Cook County state's attorney's office conducted its investigation with federal prosecutors, who have been looking to determine whether police violated McDonald's civil rights. Sources said the federal investigation had branched into possible obstruction of justice by the officers at the shooting scene.

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said not all of the 23 subpoenaed officers remained on active duty. He declined to detail the duty status of each of the officers.

The records show that four officers at the scene of the shooting have been called to the grand jury. Van Dyke's partner, Joseph Walsh, has been called at least twice. Walsh initially told investigators he repeatedly ordered McDonald to "drop the knife" as he approached officers. He said that he was backing up as McDonald drew closer, swinging his knife at police officers — actions that did not occur, according to the video.

The court logs show Walsh was scheduled to appear before the grand jury twice in October. Additional officers at the scene — including three who gave initial statements saying McDonald moved or turned threateningly toward officers before the shooting — testified in June and July.

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Other Chicago officers who have been called include Ricardo Viramontes and Dora Fontaine, who were listed in detectives' reports as being witnesses to the shooting as well as serving as the "paper car" responsible for writing the initial case report on the incident.

Both gave initial statements at odds with the video.

The lead detective in the police investigation also has been called, though he did not appear until December, after the dashboard camera video had roiled the city and cost police Supt. Garry McCarthy his job. Det. David March ruled the shooting a justifiable homicide, saying McDonald had committed an aggravated assault against the three officers and forced Van Dyke to shoot "in defense of his life."

According to police reports, March also found no discrepancies between the video and the officers' statements, though city and law enforcement officials now acknowledge inconsistencies.

"The recovered in-car camera video … was viewed and found to be consistent with the accounts of all of the witnesses," March wrote.

March's supervisor Anthony Wojcik — a lieutenant in the department's detective division — also was scheduled to testify in December, the court logs show.

March and Wojcik remain on full duty, Guglielmi said.

sstclair@tribpub.com

dheinzmann@tribpub.com

Chicago Tribune reporter Annie Sweeney contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 19, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Many Chicago officers called to testify - Court records provide a glimpse into a grand jury investigating the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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