CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago police officer testified Wednesday that she’s being called a traitor by some of her colleagues for contradicting department reports about the circumstances surrounding the fatal 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.
Officer Dora Fontaine is a witness in the trial of ex-Officer Joseph Walsh, former Detective David March and suspended Officer Thomas Gaffney. Prosecutors allege the three concocted a version of the shooting to protect Officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted of second-degree murder earlier this year.
Fontaine testified that she and her partner, Ricardo Viramontes, headed to the scene after hearing a call over the police radio. She said she saw the shooting of McDonald and told March what she saw: “Male black walking southbound, swaying the knife, twisting, falling.”
She said March’s reports about the incident didn’t match what she told him. Fontaine said she called her lawyer when she learned of March’s report because she felt like she needed legal advice.
“Why did this matter to you?” Holmes asked.
“Because it was a lie,” Fontaine answered. She said after word spread she was disputing what the official reports stated, she was blackballed.
“Other officers were calling me a rat, a snitch, a traitor,” Fontaine said. “They wouldn’t back me up. If I was at a call and I needed assistance some officers felt strong enough to say that I didn’t deserve to be helped.”
Fontaine said a sympathetic boss reached out to her and offered to pull her off the street, adding she welcomed the opportunity to go on desk duty.
March’s attorney, James McKay, claimed there were inconsistencies in statements she gave to prosecutors. McKay said that although she testified McDonald never attacked officers, she told investigators for the Chicago inspector general’s office that the swaying knife was an “attacking movement.”
McKay also hinted Fontaine, 51, concocted the accusations against March to save her job. Fontaine admitted she feared losing her job in the shooting’s aftermath.
The inspector general’s office recommended Fontaine be fired for making false statements in the McDonald case. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson rejected the recommendation, citing insufficient evidence to support her dismissal.
In other testimony, Officer Joseph McElligott and his partner, Gaffney, were the first to encounter McDonald the night of the shooting. He said they followed the teen at a distance over several blocks.
McElligott, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, testified he got the car, drew his gun once he saw McDonald had the knife and told the teen “25 to 30 times” to drop the weapon. He said that while McDonald never responded and he thought he was a threat, the teen never made a threatening move toward him.
McElligott said back at headquarters after the shooting, he saw several detectives and Officers Walsh and Van Dyke watching security video from a doughnut shop across the street from where McDonald was shot.
“They were just discussing the positioning of where they were . when (McDonald) was shot,” McElligott said. “I remember hearing somebody saying that Joe Walsh had been backpedaling.”
Although the trial is not about whether Van Dyke was justified in shooting McDonald, defense attorneys focused on whether the teen posed a threat.
When questioning McElligott, defense attorney William Fahy tried to make the point that Gaffney faced a different threat level while in the squad car since McDonald popped the tire and scratched the windshield with the knife.
Sgt. Larry Snelling contradicted the officers’ report that the 17-year-old McDonald lunged at Van Dyke.
Snelling is an expert in training, the use of force and writing reports at the Chicago Police Department. He testified when he watches dash video of Van Dyke’s shooting of McDonald, he doesn’t see anything that would have justified pulling the trigger.