A police officer who fatally shot a black teenager last year was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday as graphic video of the killing, just released, sparked unrest.
The full length video shows 17-year old Laquan McDonald walking down the middle of the 4100 block of South Pulaski Road toward the flashing blue lights of the police cruisers trying to stop him. With a tug of his pants and a quickened step, the teen veers away from them.
The first two officers on the scene trailed McDonald for nearly a half-mile, from a trucking yard where he had been breaking into vehicles through a Burger King parking lot and onto busy Pulaski Road. As officers awaited backup units armed with Tasers, they tried to corral McDonald to keep him away from passers-by. At one point, McDonald used the knife to slash the front tire of a squad car trying to block his path.
Officer Jason Van Dyke and his partner arrived 10 minutes after the first call. Their weapons were drawn as they stepped from the Chevrolet Tahoe. McDonald keeps moving, apparently trying to pass the officers who are several feet to his left. McDonald, holding something in his right hand, swings his right arm in the split second before an officer opens fire.
There is no sound on the controversial dash-cam video released late Tuesday afternoon by the city, only startling images that show a white Chicago police officer unloading 16 rounds on an African-American teen.
Within six seconds of exiting the police car, Van Dyke opened fire. Fifteen seconds later, he had emptied his 16-round handgun, authorities said. The force of the bullets spins McDonald around. His legs stiffen as he falls backward to the pavement. Two clouds of smoke-like debris silently puff upward immediately after McDonald falls.
The teen rolls onto his right side in the middle of the roadway. His head appears to lift, his arm moves. Then more bullets. Another cloud of white debris kicks up from behind his head. And then it is over. The video captures 15 seconds of shooting. For 13 seconds of it, McDonald is lying on the street.
His partner asked him to hold his fire as Van Dyke reloaded, authorities said. Van Dyke’s partner then walked to McDonald’s body and kicked a knife with a 3-inch blade out of his hand.
The teen lies on the road for nearly a minute alone. The teen was alive when paramedics arrived but died on the way to the hospital, authorities said.
Officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, is now charged with first-degree murder in the October 2014 slaying of Laquan McDonald, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, scalp, neck, back, arms and right hand and leg.
He has been ordered held without bail until at least his next court appearance Monday. In outlining the charges, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said the officers first on the scene said they felt no need to use force on the teen.
An autopsy report noting the gunshot wounds to Laquan McDonald, 17, who was fatally shot in October 2014. According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, he was shot 16 times. (Credit: Cook County Medical Examiner).
The charges and the release of the video came amid a national debate over race, police shootings and a growing number of violent encounters with the police captured on video. Chicago’s police force has its own sometimes painful history, which by some estimates includes more than $500 million in settlements and other costs over the last decade tied to police misconduct as well as reparations for black residents who said a group of officers abused and tortured them in the 1970s and ’80s.
In April, the city agreed to pay $5 million to the McDonald family, even before a suit had been filed in the case.
Police said McDonald, who had PCP in his system when he died, was behaving erratically and refusing police commands to drop the folding knife. At the time of the shooting, the police union maintained that the officer fired in fear for his life because the teen lunged at him and his partner with the knife.
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, has said the footage from the dash cam captures only one aspect of the shooting. In court Tuesday, he told Judge Donald Panarese Jr. there was a “valid defense” in the case. And after court, Herbert, who has previously said Van Dyke feared for his life, questioned the filing of a first-degree murder charge over the shooting.
Van Dyke, who is married and has two children, was born in Hinsdale and attended grade school in Burr Ridge and graduated from Hinsdale South High School in Darien in 1996, according to his personnel file obtained by the Chicago Tribune through an open records request.
Before joining the Chicago Police Department, Van Dyke applied to work as a officer with the state prison system but was rejected because he did not have a college degree. He went on to earn both a two-year and four-year degree in criminal justice. He earned his bachelor’s at St. Xavier University, where he was a straight-A student, according to his personnel file and a spokesman for St. Xavier.
Department records show that over the years, Van Dyke has been accused by residents of a number of abuses, from hurling racial epithets to manhandling suspects and, in one complaint, pointing his gun at an arrestee without justification. But he was never disciplined for any of the 15 complaints that have been resolved.
Van Dyke worked in mostly high-crime districts over his career, including Englewood and Chicago Lawn, where he was most recently assigned. He was a member of the targeted response unit, which aggressively went into neighborhoods experiencing spikes in violent crimes before McCarthy abandoned that strategy several years ago.
Early Tuesday, Van Dyke’s wife described her husband as a “highly decorated and respected officer” on a GoFundMe page seeking online donations for his bond. The page, which has since been taken down, described him as a 15-year veteran officer “fighting for freedom and justice.”
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