Ex-Chicago Police Officer Sentenced To 81 Months For Laquan McDonald Murder

Jan 19, 2019
Originally published on January 19, 2019 2:21 pm
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A former Chicago police officer was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for the 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager. It's an end to a case that ignited protests over police shootings, prompted overhauls in their policy and changed Chicago's political landscape. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The sentence for Jason Van Dyke came just a day after another judge cleared three other officers accused of trying to cover up for him in this controversial case. Van Dyke faced the threat of a long prison term. Three months ago, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

After a day-long hearing yesterday, a judge sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison.


DAN HERBERT: And he truly felt great.

CORLEY: Dan Herbert is Van Dyke's attorney.


HERBERT: You know, he's certainly not happy about going to jail. He's certainly not happy about missing his family, but he's happy about the prospect of life ahead of him.

CORLEY: It was not a decision that activists and McDonald's family had hoped for. Marvin Hunter is McDonald's great-uncle.


MARVIN HUNTER: This sentence reduced Laquan McDonald's life to a second-class citizen. And it suggests to us that there are no laws on the books for a black man that a white man is bound to honor.

CORLEY: The crux of this case was a dashcam video. It contradicted police reports that said McDonald had attacked police and instead showed him walking away, knife in hand, from officers who were following him. An ensuing firestorm prompted the dismissal of the city's police superintendent and a federal investigation.

William Calloway, an activist who took legal steps to force the release of the video, had wanted Van Dyke to serve a much longer sentence.


WILLIAM CALLOWAY: Eighty-one months in the Illinois Department of Corrections. That's a slap in the face to us and a slap on the wrist to him.

CORLEY: At the hearing, witnesses offered two portraits of Jason Van Dyke. Edward Nance, almost weeping, recounted alleged brutal treatment at the hands of Van Dyke during a traffic stop.


EDWARD NANCE: Well, I couldn't roll my shoulders. And I couldn't - I could do nothing.

JOSEPH MCMAHON: Did you tell the defendant that you were...


MCMAHON: ...In pain and he was hurting you?


MCMAHON: Did he respond?

NANCE: He said, shut up and lay down.

CORLEY: Nance was awarded $350,000 in a federal lawsuit. Van Dyke's wife called her husband a gentle giant. His brother-in-law, who is black, said Van Dyke is not a racist.

Prosecutor Joseph McMahon had asked for an 18- to 20-year sentence. He said the shorter term holds Van Dyke accountable while recognizing his service as a police officer.


MCMAHON: That was our goal. It was not revenge, and not punishment for the misconduct of other abuse at the hands of other police officers, either in this city or other cities across the country.

CORLEY: Although satisfied with the sentence, McMahon added, the case that had roiled Chicago for so many years was a tragedy on many levels. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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