By Frederick H. Lowe
A jury today found Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The shooting was captured on police dashcam video and showed that police and city officials initially engaged in a coverup.
Van Dyke sat motionless as the jury fore person repeated “guilty” 16 times for aggravated battery, and once for second-degree murder. The jury found him not guilty of official misconduct and first-degree murder.
Before the jury issued its verdict, Leighton Criminal Court Building employees and employees of businesses in downtown Chicago were told to go home early should trouble erupt if the jury found Van Dyke not guilty. CLTV in Chicago televised the entire trial.
Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times as he lay on the ground, posing no threat to him. McDonald was carrying a pocket knife, but the other police officers on the scene did not pull out their guns because they did not consider the teenager a threat. The deadly shooting occurred on October 20, 2014.
Van Dyke whispered to his lawyer, Dan Herbert, after the jury completed reading the verdict and left the courtroom. Herbert patted his client on the shoulder. Van Dyke then stood up with his hands behind his back as though he had been handcuffed. He hadn’t been. He walked out of the courtroom flanked and followed by Cook County Sheriff’s Deputies.
Outside the courthouse, a small crowd chanted “Justice for Laquan.” Some members of the crowd carried placards that read, “Black Panther Party” and “Stop Killings by Racist Cops.” Motorists driving by the criminal court’s building honked their car horns to show their support for the verdict. Otherwise, both the crowd and courtroom relatively quiet.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who attended at least one of the court sessions, said “a measure of justice has been rendered.” Others said they hoped the jury would have found Van Dyke, 40, guilty of first-degree murder.
Cook County, Illinois, prosecutors charged Van Dyke with murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Van Dyke is the first on-duty police officer in 40 years to be charged with murder and convicted.
Initially, Van Dyke claimed McDonald threatened him and other police officers with a pocket knife, but the case took a dramatic turn when a freelance journalist and a community activist learned of the video that showed the entire shooting. An unnamed whistle-blower told the two about the video.
The police dash-cam video showed that McDonald walking away from Van Dyke when he shot him.
The repercussions from the deadly shooting claimed the career of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who unexpectedly announced last month that he would not seek a third four-year term.
Mayor Emanuel lost support among Chicago’s black voters when his office withheld the dash-cam video, leading to allegations of a coverup. Before the video’s release, police ruled the shooting was justified.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote a letter, telling the police department it could not withhold the video,
On November 19, 2015, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the video to be released to the public no later than November 25, 2015.
The city did not appeal the judge’s decision. On November 24, 2015, after a press conference, the video was released that showed Van Dyke fatally shooting McDonald as he walked away.
The video sparked a series of major demonstrations throughout the city, including along posh North Michigan Avenue, with protestors chanting “16 shots and a coverup.”
The video’s release also claimed the career of Cook County States’ Attorney Anita Alvarez who supported withholding the video.
Alvarez lost her bid for re-election in March 2016 to Kim Foxx, who became the first black woman elected Cook County State’s Attorney. Alavrez won only 26 percent of the vote. Mayor Emanuel fired Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy, who stripped Van Dyke of his police powers, but was prevented from firing him because of the city’s contract with the police union. Van Dyke is no longer a police officer.
McCarthy is now a candidate for Chicago mayor.
The trial lasted three weeks. The 12-person jury deliberated five hours Thursday and three hours today before reaching a verdict.
Van Dyke could be sentenced to life in prison.
This is the second recent conviction of a white cop for murdering a black teenager.
In August, Roy Oliver, a former officer employed by the Balch Springs Police Department, near Dallas, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a jury convicted him of murder in the 2017 shooting death of Jordan Edwards, an unarmed passenger in a car.