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Activists Upset As Ex-Cop Who Killed Laquan McDonald Gets Released From Prison

Chicago, IL – The former Chicago police officer convicted of second-degree murder in the officer-involved shooting death of a knife-wielding teen who was high on PCP was released from prison Thursday.

The Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) confirmed that now-former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, 43, was no longer in custody as of 10 a.m. on Feb. 3, the Chicago Patch reported.

DOC officials refused to disclose which prison he was released from.

Van Dyke will now serve three years of supervised release, the Chicago Patch reported.

Protesters turned up at a Joliet City Council meeting Tuesday night ahead of the former officer’s release and demanded U.S. Attorney John Lausch file federal charges against Van Dyke in order to keep him locked up, according to the news outlet.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has also filed a petition with the Justice Department, demanding they file charges against Van Dyke.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot released a statement saying Van Dyke’s sentence was “a supreme disappointment,” the Chicago Patch reported.

“I know some Chicagoans remain disheartened and angry about Jason Van Dyke’s sentence for the murder of Laquan McDonald,” Lightfoot said. “As I said at the time, while the jury reached the correct guilty verdict, the judge’s decision to sentence Van Dyke to only 81 months was and remains a supreme disappointment.”

“I understand why this continues to feel like a miscarriage of justice, especially when many Black and brown men get sentenced to so much more prison time for having committed far lesser crimes,” the mayor lamented. “It’s these distortions in the criminal justice system, historically, that have made it so hard to build trust.”

Van Dyke was convicted in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for each of the 16 rounds he fired at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

He was sentenced to 81 months in prison in January of 2019 and was released from prison early due to credit for good behavior, the Associated Press reported.

He served 39 months.

Van Dyke resigned from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) after his sentencing, the Associated Press reported.

He initially appealed his conviction, but dropped his attempts to clear his name in 2020.

Van Dyke was first housed in Cook County and was moved to another county jail facility near the Illinois-Iowa border before being transferred to a federal lockup in Danbury, Connecticut, the Associated Press reported.

He was severely beaten by other inmates within three hours of his arrival at the federal facility, WGN reported at the time.

“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,” one of his attorneys, Tammy Wendt, said during a press conference.

“We are all petrified and in fear for Jason’s life,” his wife, Tiffany Van Dyke, told the Chicago Sun Times after the assault. “Jason just wants to serve his sentence. He does not want any trouble. I hope prison officials will take steps to rectify this right away. He never should have been in the general population.”

“We are done being hurt,” Tiffany said. “He is a police officer who was convicted for doing his job…I’m standing up for my husband right now, because he can’t fight anymore.”

Van Dyke was later relocated to a federal prison in New York, but prison records indicated he was transferred out of the federal prison system by late 2019, the Associated Press reported.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokesperson Lindsey Hess said in January that he was being held in another state.

Hess refused to specify his location due to “safety and security” concerns, the Associated Press reported.

Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, said he hopes Van Dyke has “learned the errors of his ways” as a result of the prison stint.

“I have always asked for justice and not revenge,” Hunter said, according to the Associated Press. “We got as much justice you could get with the players that were there at the time he was on trial.”

Lead defense attorney Daniel Herbert said Van Dyke has spent most of his time in solitary confinement since the assault in Connecticut, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

“It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience for him,” Herbert said. “He’s paid his debt to society. Now he hopes he can just move on and have a quiet productive life.”

Van Dyke has no plans to ever work in law enforcement again, his attorney said.

He noted the former officer received training to work on HVAC systems while he was in federal custody.

His wife and children have remained in Chicago, and Van Dyke will have to file a petition if they want to move out of the city while he is still serving time on parole, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The fatal shooting occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police responded to a report of a teenager breaking into vehicles in the 4000-block of South Karlov Avenue, Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden told WLS at the time.

The suspect, later identified as McDonald, slashed the front passenger tire of a patrol SUV, damaged the vehicle’s windshield, and took off on foot, police said.

Officers intercepted the armed suspect in the 4100-block of South Pulaski Road and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused.

According to the Chicago Tribune, police said McDonald was under the influence of PCP at the time of the incident.

During the trial, Herbert said that the incident was “a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Herbert then dropped the knife McDonald had been carrying that night onto the courtroom floor.

“At any point throughout that 20-something minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped the knife, he’d be here today,” Herbert declared.

Dashcam footage showed McDonald as he jogged down the middle of the roadway towards a police cruiser.

He then walked around the first patrol car and veered into the traffic lane, as officers moved towards his left side, the video showed.

During the trial, Officer Van Dyke’s partner, Officer Walsh, reenacted how McDonald swung the three-inch blade behind his back and up to shoulder-height just before he was shot, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Officer Walsh was in close proximity to Officer Van Dyke during the incident, and testified that McDonald posed a risk to their safety and that they had a reason to be afraid, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“At 9:57:36, McDonald has crossed over the white lane divider away from the officers, and Officer Van Dyke has taken at least one step towards McDonald with his weapon drawn,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in November of 2015, after Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, according to WLS.

“[Officer Van Dyke] then opened fire on Laquan, whose arm jerks, his body spins around and he falls to the ground,” Alvarez said. “While Laquan is falling to the ground the defendant takes at least one more step towards him.”

At that point, the patrol car where the dashcam was mounted moved to the right, cutting Officer Van Dyke out of the frame.

“Two seconds later, Laquan McDonald is lying on the street on his right side, and the video captures what appears to be two puffs of smoke coming from the ground near his body,” Alvarez said, according to WLS. “These puffs of smoke were later identified as clouds of debris caused by the fired bullets.”

“At 9:57:51, McDonald is still lying on the street and the last visible shot is fired,” she said.

According to prosecutors, Officer Van Dyke was beginning to load another magazine into his duty weapon – as he was trained to do – when his partner told him to cease fire.

The second officer then walked toward McDonald, and kicked his knife out of reach.

An autopsy revealed that McDonald was shot in the back of his arms, his right leg, and multiple times in the chest, WLS reported.

He was shot a total of 16 times, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“Of the eight officers on the scene, it was only the defendant who fired his weapon,” Alvarez said. “[Officer Van Dyke acted] without legal justification and with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm” when he fired the fatal rounds.

Herbert argued that his client was forced to make a “split-second” decision in a dangerous, fluid situation.

“The judgement made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa, it’s not the same standard as the perspective from my client,” Herbert told WLS. “People viewing this video tape will have the brilliance and benefits of hindsight, 20/20 vision.”

Prosecutors argued that Officer Van Dyke should have used less-lethal means to stop the armed teen, and said he could have waited for another officer to arrive with a Taser or used his vehicle to gently tap him, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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