Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on Friday was found guilty of the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald during an infamous Oct. 20, 2014 encounter.
He was additionally found guilty on all 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. The officer, however, was found not-guilty on an official misconduct charge.
The long-awaited verdict came nearly four years to the day after graphic dashcam footage showed Van Dyke shooting the 17-year-old, sparking widespread protests across the country.
One year after the shooting, Van Dyke was charged with six counts of first-degree murder. He pled not guilty. Ahead of the trial, however, four murder counts were dropped against the Chicago cop, leaving one first-degree murder charge, the 16 aggravated battery counts, and one count of official misconduct. Prosecutors also announced to the jury during closing arguments that they would consider a second-degree murder charge.
The jury of eight women and four men viewed graphic autopsy images and the dashcam video, which showed the 40-year-old cop shooting McDonald 16 times in less than 14 seconds.
During the three-week trial, Van Dyke’s legal team argued that the officer was wrongly charged, and that he acted out self defense during the incident, as McDonald was holding a folding knife at the time of the shooting.
One of his attorney’s even suggested the black teenager was on a “wild rampage” the night he died, comparing his behavior to that of a villain in a horror movie. The infamous dashcam video, defense attorney Daniel Herbert said in his opening statement, “doesn’t tell the whole story.”
“Now the government wants you to look at just the videotape, that we’ve probably all seen hundreds of times. They want you to look at the final chapter without reading the rest of the book,” Herbert told jurors, who also listened to 20 defense witnesses, including Van Dyke himself.
He added: “Race had absolutely nothing to do with this, and there will be no evidence whatsoever to suggest race was a factor.”
Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon disagreed, suggesting the shooting was, in fact, racial because Van Dyke saw a “black boy” who had “the audacity to ignore the police” and thus fired on him despite there being no threat to the officer’s life.
“We’re here today because the defendant shot Laquan McDonald 16 times when it was completely unnecessary. When the defendant started shooting, Laquan McDonald was walking toward a chain-link fence in a vacant lot, surrounded by five squad cars and 10 fully armed and protected Chicago police officers,” McMahon said.
Prosecutors also argued the dashcam video proved inconsistencies in Van Dyke’s testimony and police reports, by showing that the teenager was not engaging with police, instead walking far away—as far two car lanes—when the bullets were fired.
Initial police reports determined that Van Dyke has fired his weapon out of self defense and recorded the shooting as justified. McDonald had been “behaving erratically” while walking down the street, the report claimed, and was holding a folding knife with a three-inch blade.
Two Chicago cops began pursuing McDonald after a truck driver called 911 that night, reporting someone was breaking into car in a truck yard. One cop began to follow McDonald by foot, and another joined in a police vehicle. After following McDonald for several blocks, the two officers waited for backup officers to arrive with a Taser.
In court, Officer Joseph McElligott said while they waited for back up, he never believed he or his partner were in danger.
“We were trying to buy time to get a Taser,” McElligott testified. “We were just trying to be patient.”
Soon after, Van Dyke and his partner arrived, along with the Chicago Police Taser unit.
“From the moment [Van Dyke] gets out of his vehicle, six seconds later, he pulls his trigger for the first time and starts to shoot Laquan McDonald,” McMahon said.
McDonald then fell to the ground less than two seconds after Van Dyke fired his weapon, McMahon told jurors.
“In total, this defendant decides to shoot Laquan McDonald not once, not twice, but three, four, five, six, seven, eight—he’s only halfway done—nine, ten, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 times,” the attorney said.
In addition to massive city and country-wide protests, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired the city's police superintendent, and the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the Chicago Police Department, which ultimately revealed years worth of systemic civil-rights violations.
The report, which attributed these violations to poor training and supervision, found that the civilian community’s “confidence” in law enforcement had been “broken.”