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Ex-Chicago Cop Who Killed Laquan McDonald Will Not Face Federal Charges

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 will not be federally charged.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch released a statement on Monday announcing that federal prosecutors will not pursue a “successive prosecution” of now-former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in connection with the officer-involved shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

“The decision not to pursue a federal prosecution is consistent with Department of Justice policy and was made in consultation with Mr. McDonald’s family,” Lausch said. “The family was in agreement not to pursue a second prosecution, and the Office respects their position.”

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

He was sentenced to 81 months in prison in January of 2019 and was released from prison early on Feb. 3 due to credit for good behavior, the Associated Press reported.

He served 39 months.

Van Dyke is currently serving three years of supervised release, the Chicago Patch previously reported.

Protesters turned up at a Joliet City Council meeting ahead of the former officer’s release and demanded 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) also filed a petition with the Justice Department, demanding they file charges against Van Dyke.

“There is no general murder charge under federal law that would apply,” Lausch explained in the press release on Monday. “Federal prosecutors would need to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Van Dyke willfully deprived Mr. McDonald of a constitutional right.”

In order to reach that threshold, “prosecutors would have to prove not only that Mr. Van Dyke acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids, but also that his actions were not the result of mistake, fear, negligence, or bad judgment,” Lausch said.

“It requires federal prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what Mr. Van Dyke was thinking when he used deadly force, and that he knew such force was excessive,” he added. “The federal law presents a very high bar – more stringent than the state charges on which Mr. Van Dyke was convicted.”

Even in the event Van Dyke was actually convicted federally, the judge would be required to consider the 81-month sentence he was given for the state charges, as well as mitigating and aggravating factors, the fact that he served prison time and was released early because of his good behavior, and the fact that he will never be able to work as a law enforcement officer again, Lausch added.

“Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution would diminish the important results already achieved,” he said.

Lausch further noted that the case “sparked an extensive Department of Justice investigation” into the Chicago Police Department, resulting in the implementation of “hundreds of meaningful police reform measures.”

And just because federal charges won’t be brought against Van Dyke doesn’t mean other law enforcement officers won’t be federally charged in the future.

“The public should not draw conclusions regarding how the Office is likely in the future to analyze incidents of alleged crimes by law enforcement officers,” Lausch said. “The Department of Justice remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that credible allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly examined.”

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.

The former officer was severely beaten by other inmates within three hours of his arrival at a federal lockup in Danbury, Connecticut, the Associated Press reported.

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

Van Dyke was later relocated to a federal prison in New York, but prison records indicated he was transferred out of the federal 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.

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 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.”

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.

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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