A Chicago police officer was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday after dashcam video captured him shooting a teenager 16 times while walking away from the officer. According to his autopsy report and witness statements, the officer shot the teen in the back and continued firing until his colleagues ordered him to stop.
Surrounded by officers and suspected of breaking into cars on October 20, 2014, Laquan McDonald, 17, was attempting to walk away from a group of Chicago cops when Officer Jason Van Dyke exited his patrol car. According to initial reports, McDonald was armed with a knife and lunged at Officer Van Dyke. Fearing for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, Van Dyke shot the teen in the chest out of self-defense.
But according to witness statements and police dashcam video, McDonald was walking away when Van Dyke took a step towards the teen before opening fire. After McDonald collapsed to the ground in a fetal position, Van Dyke continued firing his weapon until emptying his clip. As Van Dyke began reloading his gun, a fellow officer had to order him to cease firing at the defenseless teen.
McDonald’s autopsy revealed that Van Dyke shot him 16 times, including two bullets in the back, seven in his arms, two in his right leg, once on each side of his chest, and single bullets wounds to his right hand, scalp, and neck. Nine of the 16 entrance wounds had a downward trajectory. None of the five other officers at the scene fired their weapons.
Before McDonald’s family could even file a lawsuit, the city gave them a $5 million settlement on the condition that the family agreed not to publicly release the dashcam footage of the teen’s death. After suppressing the video for 13 months, the city received a court order to release the footage by the end of the day on Wednesday. The city released the dashcam video on Tuesday, which clearly shows McDonald did not lunge at the officers before the fatal shooting.
Following the incident, Van Dyke was placed on paid desk duty pending an investigation. On Tuesday morning, Van Dyke turned himself in after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged him with first-degree murder.
“The officer’s actions were not justified and were not a proper use of deadly force,” Alvarez told reporters during a press conference. She described the video as “graphic,” “violent,” and “chilling” and said that it “no doubt will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.”
Although police and city officials suppressed the dashcam footage for over a year, a Cook County judge found the city in violation of the state’s open records law last week and ordered the release of the video. Instead of fighting the court order, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has attempted to regain the public’s trust by now agreeing with the judge’s decision.
“This officer didn’t uphold the law,” Emanuel stated. “In my view he took the law into his own hands. Didn’t build the trust that we want to see, and wasn’t about providing the safety and security. So at every point, he violated what we entrust him. And when you’re entrusted as a police officer to provide safety, build trust and uphold the law and you violate it, you’re going to be, in my view, held accountable for that action. The second thing is, you know, whether you see it, hear about it or read about it, in my view, I would express that this is a…it’s also a violation of your conscience and it is wrong, and it was hideous.”