CHICAGO (Reuters) - Three Chicago police officers indicted for conspiring to cover up the shooting death of a black teenager by a white officer are being made "scapegoats," police union officials said on Wednesday.
Chicago Police Department Detective David March and officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney were each charged on Tuesday with conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice.
Kevin Graham, the president of Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge 7, questioned whether the charges were politically motivated and biased.
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"These charges are, in our minds, baseless. Our officers are being made the scapegoats," he said in a statement. "These officers should not have been indicted."
The indictments stem from a 2014 incident in which Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by officer Jason Van Dyke, who testified in a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, local media reports said. March, Walsh and Gaffney, who were on the scene the night of the shooting, conspired to conceal the facts of McDonald's killing in order to protect their fellow officer from criminal investigation and prosecution, the indictment said.
A video of the shooting, released in 2015, sparked days of protests and thrust Chicago into a national debate over the use of excessive force by police against minorities. The indictment said the officers created false reports on the killing of McDonald, who was armed with a knife.
"How the special prosecutor can construe a 'code of silence' theory defies belief," Graham said, adding that the union will support the officers' defense.
He said the new indictments raise doubts about whether Van Dyke will get a fair trial. Van Dyke, who said he felt threatened by McDonald, also was charged in March with 16 new counts of aggravated battery and pleaded not guilty to them.
March, 58, and Walsh, 48, are no longer with the Chicago police force, police representatives said. Gaffney will have a status hearing at which he is expected to be suspended without pay, a police spokesman said.
Walsh and March were police veterans of more than 30 years and about 20 years, respectively. Gaffney, 43, has about 20 years in the department. All are expected to be arraigned on July 10.
Chicago police last month finalized stricter limits on when officers can use firearms and other force, the latest attempt to reform a department roiled by misconduct and criticism in the wake of McDonald's death.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Bill Trott)