Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke Guilty of Murder in Laquan McDonald Shooting

Such a verdict is exceedingly rare.

Officer Jason Van Dyke listens to the prosecution's closing statements at his murder trial.Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/AP/Pool

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

A jury in Cook County, Illinois, has found white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot and killed black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, guilty of second-degree murder.

The jurors also convicted Van Dyke on 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. He was found not guilty of a charge of misconduct in office.

There is no mandatory sentence for second-degree murder in Illinois, but each count of aggravated battery with a firearm can bring a sentence of 6 to 30 years—which means Van Dyke could potentially face 480 years behind bars. After the verdict was announced, the judge revoked the officer’s bail, and Van Dyke was taken into custody.

Police video footage released long after the shooting, which some observers had described as an “execution,” sparked widespread protests and calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down. (The embattled mayor announced early last month that he wouldn’t seek a third term.) 

Opening arguments in the trial commenced on September 17. As my former colleague Brandon Patterson, who covered the case extensively, reported last month

Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald on Chicago’s West Side in October 2014 while responding to a call about a teen breaking into cars. But city officials waited more than a year to release police dash-cam footage of the shooting—and did so only after a judge ruled in favor of an independent journalist whose public records requests were repeatedly denied. The video quickly went viral. It showed that Van Dyke fired 16 shots at McDonald—including several while the teen lay wounded on the ground. The footage contradicted the officer’s earlier claim that he’d shot McDonald, who was holding a knife, after the teen lunged at him. (Warning: This footage is disturbing and graphic.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=xaXuT9sxCnI

Today’s verdict is somewhat surprising, given that police officers are rarely charged, much less convicted, for participation in a fatal shooting. As Patterson wrote:

Murder convictions are almost unheard of in such cases—although just last week, a Texas cop was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of murder for killing a 15-year-old outside a house party. Police are also occasionally found guilty of manslaughter—usually involuntary, which brings much shorter sentences than voluntary manslaughter. But police officers are rarely charged—much less convicted—in on-duty shootings. A Washington Post analysis of thousands of police-involved shootings from 2005 to 2015 counted just 54 officers indicted, and most were cleared or acquitted. Van Dyke is the first Chicago cop since 1980 to be charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty shooting. Over the last 15 years, however, Chicago has spent more than $700 million on legal fees, settlements, and judgments related to abuses by city police.

In anticipation of civil unrest in the case of a hand-slap verdict, thousands of officers were deployed around the city. But Van Dyke’s conviction seems, at least in this case, to have pleased police brutality activists, including members of the local Black Lives Matter group.

Three other Chicago police officers were indicted by a grand jury last June of conspiring to cover up the McDonald shooting. They are scheduled to next appear in court October 30. 

This post has been updated.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.