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Chicago officer charged with murder in shooting death of black teen

Chicago Tribune

A veteran Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times in an on-duty incident on the Southwest Side in October 2014.

Officer Jason Van Dyke surrendered to authorities Tuesday morning and is scheduled to appear in bond court at noon at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

Van Dyke, hands in his jeans pockets, on Tuesday looked straight ahead and did not answer questions shouted from reporters as he briskly walked with his attorney into the courthouse.

Van Dyke is shown on the police dash-cam video jumping out of his squad car and within seconds unloading 16 rounds into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, lawyers for McDonald’s family have said. After the first few shots knocked McDonald to the ground, Van Dyke fired another volley that struck the teen repeatedly as his body lay in almost a fetal position, according to the lawyers.

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McDonald had been acting erratically and was holding a small knife, authorities said. Van Dyke’s lawyer has said the officer feared for his life.

Van Dyke, 37, who has been on paid desk duty since the October 2014 incident, is scheduled to appear for a bond hearing at noon Tuesday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue, the sources said.

The case would mark the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years. Van Dyke would face a minimum of 20 years in prison if convicted of the first-degree murder charge.

Federal authorities continue to investigate whether Van Dyke violated McDonald’s civil rights protecting him from excessive force by the police. A federal grand jury has heard testimony from dozens of witnesses over the course of several months.

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A judge has ordered that the video be made public by Wednesday. The city lost a court fight last week to keep the video under wraps when the judge ruled in favor of a freelance journalist who sued under the state’s open records law.

Lawyers for McDonald’s family, who won a $5-million settlement from the city even before filing a lawsuit, have said Van Dyke emptied his Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun. None of the five other officers at the scene fired a shot, according to city officials.

McDonald’s autopsy found he was shot once on each side of his chest and suffered single bullet wounds to the scalp and neck, two to his back, seven in his arms, one to his right hand and two to his right leg. According to the report, nine of the 16 entrance wounds had a downward or slightly downward trajectory.

The Tribune in April first revealed that Van Dyke was the officer who shot and killed McDonald after city officials refused to disclose his identity, citing a provision in the union contract that bars the city from identifying officers unless they’re convicted of a crime or the police board rules on their case. Police stripped him of his police powers and put him on paid desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation.

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According to police and court records, Van Dyke joined the department in 2001 and spent more than four years with a specialized unit — since disbanded by police Superintendent Garry McCarthy — that aggressively went into neighborhoods experiencing spikes in violent crimes.

Chicago Tribune’s Steve Schmadeke contributed.

jgorner@tribpub.com

asweeney@tribpub.com

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jmeisner@tribpub.com

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