Jason Van Dyke

Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool

Chicago Police Officer Guilty Of Second-Degree Murder In Killing Of Teen

October 05, 2018 - 3:12 pm
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CHICAGO (WCBS 880/WBBM NEWSRADIO/AP) -- Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and numerous other charges in the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

Van Dyke, who is white, was also convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery in the shooting that killed the black teen. He was acquitted only of official misconduct.

Cook County Criminal Court Judge Vincent Gaughan revoked Van Dyke’s bail after the verdict was read.

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Van Dyke had been charged with first-degree murder, but the judge had told jurors just before they withdrew to begin deliberating that they will have the option of convicting the officer of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

First-degree murder would have carried a maximum sentence of life. Having now been convicted of second-degree murder, Van Dyke could face 15 years or more in prison, but probation is also an option with that charge.

“I actually think it’s a very interesting verdict. It shows that the jury was really thinking about this. What murder 2, in this particular case, means, was that the jury actually accepted the fact that he had a belief that his life was in danger, but his belief was unreasonable, because what you have when you have a defense of self-defense as a police officer, you have to have a subjective belief – that is, his belief – and then the objective belief; the reasonable police officer in the circumstances in which he found himself,” CBS News Legal Analyst Rikki Klieman told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott and Michael Wallace.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown said the people of Chicago did not know which way the verdict would go.

“I think it was a surprise to some people. I think we were a city not knowing which way it would go. There was a lot of tension over it,” Brown told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott.

Brown said the jurors struck a compromise.

“I think it defused, you know, concern that there would be an acquittal. There was a lot of concern, obviously – especially in the African-American community – but, you know, among like-minded folks that there would be an acquittal and that that would be an injustice,” he said. “Obviously, people who support and believe in the police were feeling otherwise, and there’s been some angry response from the police community this afternoon.”

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Jody Gleason pointed to dashcam video of Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teenager held a knife at his side. She noted that Van Dyke told detectives that McDonald raised the knife, that Van Dyke backpedaled, and that McDonald tried to get up off the ground after being shot.

"None of that happened," she said. "You've seen it on video. He made it up."

But Van Dyke's attorney, Dan Herbert, said the video, the centerpiece of the prosecutor's case, doesn't tell the whole story and is "essentially meaningless based on the testimony" jurors heard. He pointed to testimony from Van Dyke's partner that night, Joseph Walsh, who said he saw McDonald raise the knife, even though the video doesn't show that. Van Dyke made similar claims on the witness stand as he told jurors that he was afraid for his life and acted according to his training.

"The video is not enough," he said. He added: "It shows a perspective, but it's the wrong perspective."

Herbert did not note that Walsh is one of three officers charged with conspiring to cover up and lie about the circumstances of the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting to protect Van Dyke. Jurors were told only that Walsh was testifying under "use immunity," meaning his testimony can't be used against him as long as he was truthful, but were never told about the allegations he faces.

Police encountered McDonald after a 911 call reported someone breaking into vehicles. As Van Dyke arrived, police had the 17-year-old mostly surrounded on a city street. An officer with a Taser was just 25 seconds away.

Gleason seized on the testimony of one the defense's own witnesses, a psychologist who interviewed Van Dyke. Dr. Laurence Miller said that when Van Dyke heard on his radio that McDonald had a knife and had punctured the tire of a squad car, he told his partner: "Oh my God, we're going to have to shoot the guy."

Gleason said Van Dyke had made up his mind about what he'd do before even arriving at the scene.

"Laquan McDonald was never going to walk home that night," she said.

Gleason told jurors that while police officers are allowed to use deadly force in some circumstances, this was not one of them.

"They do not have the right to use deadly force just because you will not bow to their authority," she said. "This is not the Wild West out here ... where an officer can shoot an individual ... and try to justify it later."

The jury, which deliberated for about seven hours total on Thursday and Friday, is comprised of eight men and four women. Seven are white, three are Hispanic, one is Asian-American and one is African-American.

Two alternate jurors — a man and a woman — told reporters after being dismissed by the judge that they would have found Van Dyke guilty in the shooting. The man said he thought Van Dyke "should have waited a little bit longer." The woman said other officers had encountered McDonald that night and "they didn't feel the need to use deadly force."

Three other alternates were not dismissed.

One of the last images prosecutors showed jurors was an autopsy photo of McDonald's body. Gleason noted bullet entry and exit holes.

"Laquan's body was riddled, broken and bleeding," she said. She added: "He even had bullet fragments in his teeth."

Herbert argued that McDonald was to blame for what happened that night, saying "the tragedy ... could have been prevented by one simple step." Herbert then dramatically took the knife that was entered into evidence earlier and dropped it on the floor in front of the jury box. Van Dyke testified that he repeatedly asked the teen to drop the knife.

Herbert also reminded jurors that a prosecutor briefly mentioned the issue of race during opening statements but never broached the issue again.

"Did you see any evidence that race had anything to do with this case?" he said. "When you don't have evidence, you use argument."

Ahead of the verdict, the city prepared for the possibility of the kind of massive protests that followed the release of the video in November 2015, with an extra 4,000 officers being put on the streets.

Downtown Chicago businesses also took precautions in case of riots upon an acquittal.

“This afternoon, when the news came down that the verdict was going to come out, most downtown businesses and office buildings shut down and sent their people home, so you had this kind of bizarre situation of people fleeing the downtown at this wrong hour of the day, right? And that was all out of some concern that there would be some sort of explosive reaction,” Brown said. “Was that based in anything real? You know, I guess we’ll never know, thankfully.”

Following the second-degree murder verdict, there were cheers outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse southwest of downtown Chicago.

Dozens of people also gathered outside Chicago’s City Hall on LaSalle Street to celebrate the jury's decision, surrounded by police officers. The group was later on the move, marching through the Loop.

In the South Shore neighborhood on the South Side of the city, a small group of activists was elated, but one speaker said the jury's verdict should have been first-degree murder. Activists also expressed anger at the alleged coverup by some of Van Dyke's police-officer peers.

Police union officials were grim. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham promised there would be an appeal and said the union stands with Van Dyke.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Supt. Eddie Johnson issued a statement urging Chicago to stick together.

The verdict was the latest chapter in a story that has led to the police superintendent and the county's top prosecutor both losing their jobs — one fired by the mayor and the other ousted by voters. It also led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found a "pervasive cover-up culture" and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.

Klieman explained that initially, the story had been that the shooting was justified. But the tape came forward more than a year afterward.

“At the time that the tape came forward, because of the efforts of the press to be able to make this tape public, that tape had been hidden for a period of almost two years, and while that tape was hidden, the idea was that the police shooting was 100 percent justified, and that Rahm Emanuel wound up being reelected as mayor while the tape was suppressed,” she said. “The tape suddenly comes forward as a result of these motions by the press, and when you watch the tape, the video is very, very damning.”

Emanuel recently announced that he was not running for a third term, although his office insisted the case had nothing to do with his decision. The former police superintendent who was fired after the tape was released, Garry McCarthy, is himself now running for mayor.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. WBBM Newsradio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)