Police Abuse

Will Officer's Murder Indictment Prompt Any Changes or Even Introspection in Chicago Police?

More importantly: Was there a cover-up effort and should others face charges?


McDonald (left) and Van Dyke (right)

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is back in court today to find out whether he'll be offered any sort of bail after being charged with murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, 17.

As we noted just before the holidays, the City of Chicago finally released (after being order to by a judge) dashcam video showing Van Dyke seemingly emptying his gun into McDonald. Though McDonald was holding a knife and turned out to have PCP in his system, the video showed that he was not behaving aggressively toward the police and was trying to move away from them when Van Dyke opened fire.

More information about the case has been released over the holiday weekend:

  • State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said she had decided "weeks ago" she was going to charge Van Dyke but wanted to wait until federal authorities had completed their part of the investigation. And apparently she still wasn't ready (the shooting took place in October 2014) but decided to "move up" the announcement because of the judge ordering the release of the video.
  • The manager of the Burger King adjacent to the location where McDonald was killed has accused police of deleting 86 minutes of surveillance footage from around the time of the shooting. Allegedly the FBI now has possession of the equipment and the surveillance, so he can't prove to the media that the footage is gone. Both the police and Alvarez are denying the video has been altered. He also testified before a grand jury about the missing footage.
  • So if the footage really is missing, is there any possibility that anybody else in the police department will be found culpable of any sort of cover-up efforts? The police initially reported that McDonald "lunged" at officers, a claim contradicted by the video. The video also makes it clear that Van Dyke was the only officer to shoot at McDonald at all even though there were several officers on scene. Protesters spent the holiday complaining about the slow speed of justice and demanding resignations. We don't know how much police officers cooperated with the investigation as yet. Could there be additional charges toward other officers?
  • Van Dyke apparently opened fire just six seconds after getting out of his squad car and had just arrived at the scene. Prosecutors say Van Dyke was actually reloading his gun while McDonald lay unmoving on the pavement (having been shot 16 times) when another officer finally told him to hold his fire. The circumstances sound similar to the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed by an officer while holding a toy gun in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Despite the outrageousness of the incident, two investigators determined that the officer's behavior was reasonable simply because he "perceived" a threat, regardless of whether it actually existed. We can fully expect such a defense to come up in Van Dyke's trial. There are experts who travel to trials around the country arguing that any aggressive behavior by police is justified in situations where they believe they are in danger, even when it's simply not an accurate assessment of the situation. And they win trials.

Meanwhile, jury selection begins today in the first of several trials of six Baltimore Police officers over the death of Freddie Gray, 25, while in police custody. Gray died as a result of a spinal injury while being transported in a police van, possibly a victim of what is known as a "nickel ride," where arrested victims are tossed into the rear of a vehicle without safety restraints and get knocked around violently (and on purpose) by the van's movement.