Laquan McDonald shooting: federal prosecutors will not charge officer

Federal authorities on Monday said they would not criminally charge Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer convicted of murder in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

The US attorney’s office in Chicago said in a news release that the decision had been made after consulting with the McDonald family and that the “family was in agreement not to pursue a second prosecution”.

According to the release, prosecuting Van Dyke on federal charges would have been much more difficult than it was to prosecute him in state court because the burden of proof is far higher.

Federal prosecutors “would have to prove not only that Mr Van Dyke acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids, but also that his actions were not the result of mistake, fear, negligence, or bad judgment”, the office explained in the release.

Van Dyke, who was captured on video shooting the teenager 16 times, was convicted in Chicago in 2018 of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to 81 months in state prison. The former officer served less than half that sentence before he was released from prison in February.

His release prompted calls from civil rights leaders, community activists, and others angry about what they saw as a lenient sentence for federal prosecutors to charge Van Dyke again.

None of McDonald’s relatives were immediately available to comment on Monday, but shortly after the news broke that Van Dyke was going to be released in February, some of them had demanded a federal investigation and the pursuit of federal charges.

But McDonald’s great-uncle, the Rev Marvin Hunter, said that while he thought Van Dyke should have received a much longer sentence, he did not want to see Van Dyke charged in federal court.

“If you set this precedent of re-convicting people because you don’t think he got enough time, then hundreds of thousands of Black men in Illinois alone could be harmed. They will use this case as a way to keep them incarcerated,” Hunter said at the time.

The office of John Lausch Jr, US attorney for the northern district of Illinois, noted that Van Dyke would never be a police officer again, and his arrest and conviction – he was the first Chicago police officer in half a century to be convicted for an on-duty shooting – prompted reforms.

For example, video of police shootings must now be released within 60 days. Chicago authorities fought for months to prevent the release of police video showing McDonald’s killing, before a judge ordered the city to do so.

Also, Van Dyke’s name was not made public until he was charged in McDonald’s death more than a year after the shooting. Today, while police still do not release an officer’s name, the agency that reviews those shootings does.

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