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First, the cop who killed Laquan McDonald was found guilty of murder. Now attention turns to the alleged cover-up.


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: First, the cop who killed Laquan McDonald was found guilty of murder. Now attention turns to the alleged cover-up.

  • In a Pennsylvania county, Black children are disproportionately charged in adult court

  • Georgia woman endured arrest, million-dollar bond, and months of jail over ‘meth’ that was actually cotton candy

  • Immigrants at risk of deportation have a right to a jury trial in all cases

  • Landmark ruling says jail must provide methadone treatment

  • Texas court upholds conviction for inadvertent voter fraud

  • Reflecting on the hell of solitary confinement

In the Spotlight

First, the cop who killed Laquan McDonald was found guilty of murder. Now attention turns to the alleged cover-up.

Three Chicago police officers are on trial on charges of conspiring to protect their colleague, Jason Van Dyke, the officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. [Chip Mitchell / WAMU] Opening statements were delivered yesterday and the special prosecutor presented its first witnesses. [Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, and Stacy St. Clair / Chicago Tribune] The trial began seven weeks after Van Dyke was found guilty in October of second-degree murder, in a verdict that many had longed for but were not sure would ever come. When it came, nearly four years after Laquan’s death, it was the rare outcome that punctured the impunity shielding cops in Chicago, and around the country. [Mitch Smith / New York Times] See also In our Oct. 5 newsletter, we looked at Van Dyke’s trial and how the “blue wall of silence” came up to protect him.

More than a year after Laquan McDonald’s death, a judge ordered the release of the dashboard camera video that showed Van Dyke, a white officer, shooting Laquan, a Black teenager, 16 times, including after he lay motionless on the ground. That video, and the city’s efforts to keep it hidden, prompted outrage over the cover-up and led to a cascade of political consequences that included the ouster of state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, the firing of the police chief, a Department of Justice investigation that concluded the Chicago Police Department was infected with racism and brutality, and, most recently, the announcement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that he would not seek re-election next year. When Van Dyke finally went on trial last month, the video served as the crucial piece of evidence, contradicting Van Dyke’s claims about the danger he believed he faced from Laquan. [Mitch Smith, Timothy Williams, and Monica Davey / New York Times] See also In our Oct. 11 newsletter, we discussed how the video helped lead to Van Dyke’s conviction, but how police video can also be used to acquit officers.

The video will also play a role in the trial of Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and ex-Detective David March. The three are facing charges that include obstruction of justice, official misconduct, and conspiracy to commit those offenses. [Chip Mitchell / WAMU] Last year, when it seemed near-impossible that Van Dyke would be convicted, some commentators argued that it would be the prosecution of Van Dyke’s fellow officers that would truly strike at the “saturation of corruption” in the police department. [Alan Pyke / ThinkProgress]

Prosecutors allege that officers on the scene and detectives whose role it was to investigate the killing met with Van Dyke in the hours following it to settle on an account of what happened. Gaffney, Walsh, and March were among the officers at the meeting who then went on to file false police reports. At a hearing last month, an assistant special prosecutor said, “The trial will focus on consistently false information that could not have been submitted except for an agreement to write consistently false information.”  [Chip Mitchell / WAMU] Among the allegations are that officers also failed to interview witnesses on the scene, including a father and son who saw the shooting from their car and were then ordered to leave the area. They are expected to testify against the officers. [Tess Owens / Vice]

The trial is happening before a judge, Domenica Stephenson, rather than a jury. The Chicago Tribune reported that one of the takeaways of the first day is that “Laquan McDonald appears to be on trial again.” The defense sought to present a narrative similar to that presented during Van Dyke’s trial, focusing on the Laquan’s actions before his death. In his opening statement, a lawyer for one of the officers said: “Race has nothing to do with this case. This case is about law and order … It’s about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night. There must be some individual responsibility attached to McDonald.” While that defense failed to win the jury’s support during Van Dyke’s trial, there is the possibility that the officers will find a more sympathetic audience in Judge Stephenson, a former prosecutor. The first day prominently featured the police paperwork created after Laquan’s death, which prosecutors allege contain falsehoods meant to cover up Van Dyke’s actions. The prosecution called two witnesses and testimony was scheduled to resume today. [Jason Meisner, Megan Crepeau, and Stacy St. Clair / Chicago Tribune]

Laquan McDonald’s murder and the quest for police accountability requires, as do all prosecutions of police and prison guard violence, reckoning with the question of how much to seek justice from the same system that imperils so many Black and brown lives. In an In These Times piece published during Van Dyke’s trial, Benji Hart explored these questions, asking: “Would locking up a killer cop work to curb state violence, or to reestablish faith in the very systems—prisons, courts, police—that are its source? … How do we dream bigger than convictions … What models for police accountability exist that teach us to shrink the state’s purview, not expand it?” Hart, an organizer with the #NoCopAcademy campaign, pointed to Mayor Emanuel’s moveafter a scathing Department of Justice review of the Chicago Police Departmentto argue for $95 million in funding for a new training academy. “The administration relied on the murder of Laquan,” Hart writes, “to up spending on the same violent institution that took Laquan’s life.” [Benji Hart / In These Times]

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Anagraph/Photo by luoman/Getty Images

In a Pennsylvania County, Black Children Are Disproportionately Charged in Adult Court. In 2016 and 2017, more than 80 percent of children charged as adults by the Allegheny County district attorney were Black. [Joshua Vaughn]

Georgia Woman Endured Arrest, Million-Dollar Bond, and Months of Jail Over ‘Meth’ That Was Actually Cotton Candy. A notoriously unreliable roadside drug test administered by Monroe County sheriff’s deputies led to Dasha Fincher being charged with methamphetamine trafficking. [Lauren Gill]

Stories From Around the Country

Immigrants at risk of deportation have a right to a jury trial in all cases: New York’s highest court has ruled that the risk of deportation is a severe enough penalty that defendants facing misdemeanor charges normally only triable before a judge are entitled to jury trials. The decision came in the 2012 case of Saylor Suazo who faced misdemeanor charges punishable by up to three months in jail. Before trial, Suazo, represented by Insha Rahman and Andrew Wachtenheim of the Bronx Defenders, argued that though the sentence was below New York’s threshold for a jury trial, the penalty of deportation, which he almost certainly faced if convicted, was severe enough to warrant one under the guarantees of the Sixth Amendment. The prosecution argued that the deportation was, rather than a penalty, a collateral consequence of the conviction. The judge denied Suazo’s request and he was convicted. The case went up to the Court of Appeals after an intermediate court also ruled against Suazo. In a 5-2 decision, the appellate court ruled: “There can be no serious dispute that, if deemed a penalty for Sixth Amendment purposes, deportation or removal is a penalty of the utmost severity.” [Beth Fertig / WNYC]

Landmark ruling says jail must provide methadone treatment: A federal judge in Massachusetts has ruled that the Essex County House of Correction must administer prescription methadone to Geoffrey Pesce, who faces a 60-day sentence for a probation violation. Experts describe the ruling as a first of its kind, and his lawyer says the decision “will help save Geoffrey’s life.” In the preliminary injunction issued Monday, District Judge Denise J. Casper found that denial of the medication would constitute a violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the constitutional bar on cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU of Massachusetts brought the lawsuit on behalf of Pesce, whose years-long struggle with heroin use was brought to an end when he began taking methadone two years ago. Under the jail’s current policy, he would have had to endure a forced withdrawal, while receiving treatment to address the symptoms. While the decision is limited to Pesce’s treatment and the program in Essex County, Jessie Rossman of the ACLU told the Boston Globe: “We also hope that jails and prisons throughout the Commonwealth see this as a good time to look at and change their policies to ensure … access to medically prescribed treatment.” [Felice J. Freyer / Boston Globe]

Texas court upholds conviction for inadvertent voter fraud: Rosa Ortega was convicted of illegally voting in the 2012 and 2014 elections, when she checked the box for “citizen” despite being a permanent resident. Ortega, who moved to the U.S. as an infant, maintained that she had never meant to break the law and had simply checked the box because there was no option for declaring permanent resident status. She opted for a jury trial, confident that jurors would understand it had been a form-filling mistake. Instead, she was found guilty of voter fraud. The mother of four was sentenced to eight years in prison, a sentence that even conservatives criticized as excessive. On Tuesday, the Texas Second Court of Appeals upheld that conviction. [Tony Cantu / Patch]

Reflecting on the hell of solitary confinement: Jean Casella and James Ridgeway of Solitary Watch describe an insight shared in a letter from prison several years ago that has stayed with them over the years. The writer of the letter, they say, “believed that most of the public held a common misconception about prisons,” that “the wall around the perimeter of a prison … was to keep the incarcerated from escaping.” But, as he wrote, the wall “isn’t there to keep prisoners in. It’s to keep the rest of you out.” Casella and Ridgeway reflect on how “this has nowhere been more true than in solitary confinement units, the ‘prisons within prisons’ that are kept strictly off limits to the public and the press, where tens of thousands of people have suffered in silence.” As a reminder of how that silence is broken, they feature excerpts from three of the letters they received over the years from people trapped in solitary confinement, which form part of their book Hell Is a Very Small Place. One letter from a man in solitary for 14 years describes how, after the first year, “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the unraveling must’ve begun. … My psyche had changed. The ability to hold a single good thought left me, as easily as if it was a simple shift of wind sifting over tired, battered bones…” [Jean Casella and James Ridgeway / Solitary Watch]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

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