A jury found former Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder for the 2014 shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke, who is white, shot McDonald, who was black, 16 times and was also convicted on 16 counts of aggravated battery.
Based on initial police reports of the incident, supervisors ruled the shooting was a justifiable homicide and within the bounds of the department’s use of force guidelines. However, cash cam video contradicted those reports, and Van Dyke was initially charged with six counts of first degree murder along with the aggravated battery counts. It was the first time in over three decades that a Chicago police officer had been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality, and marks one of the first criminal convictions for an officer involved shooting death.
Police had been called to investigate reports that a man was carrying a knife and breaking into vehicles in a nearby trucking yard. McDonald, who has been described by a teacher as “very respectful and reserved” and “not aggressive,” used a knife to slice the tire on a patrol vehicle and damage its windshield. (Toxicology reports later revealed McDonald had PCP in his system at the time of the incident.)
While McDonald walked away from police after verbal instructions to drop the knife, the incident did not escalate until Van Dyke got there. Responding officers requested Taser backup, but video of the shooting Van Dyke began opening fire less than 30 seconds from his arrival on the scene — approximately six seconds after exiting his car. Dash cam footage showed McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when the first shot was fired. Van Dyke shot McDonald a total of 16 times in 14-15 seconds, hitting him in the neck, chest, back, both arms, right leg, and grazing his left scalp. Nine of the 16 shots hit McDonald’s back and Van Dyke continued to shoot McDonald while he lay on the ground.
The officer who first responded to the call said that he did not see the need to use force, and none of the other officers on the scene fired their weapons.
Van Dyke, who was acquitted of a single count of official misconduct, faces a minimum of six years in prison. Jurors deliberated for just seven and a half hours, and, according to reports, much of the discussion didn’t involve Van Dyke’s culpability, but whether his was guilty of first- or second-degree murder. Ultimately, they found that Van Dyke was frightened when he fired his gun but that his fear was unreasonable.
Judge Vincent Gaughan revoked Van Dyke’s request for bail, and his sentencing could come as early as October 31.
- Van Dyke Taken Into Custody After Jury Convicts Him of 2nd-Degree Murder, Aggravated Battery for Each of 16 Shots (Chicago Tribune)
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