Chicago Police Officer Found Guilty of Second Degree Murder
VERDICTS IN THE NEWS – FRESNO INJURY LAW BLOG
Located less the two miles from Midway Airport, the Chicago Lawn neighborhood represents one of 77 community areas geographically defined within the boundaries of the third largest city in the United States. The rapidly changing neighborhood sits between two bustling thoroughfares, interstates 55 and 90. Locals refer to Chicago Lawn as “Marquette Park” in honor of the municipal park that is the cultural and natural main attraction of the community.
Racial demographic changes have dramatically altered the economic base of Chicago Lawn. During the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. led a massive demonstration to promote open housing for every citizen living in the embattled community. King’s march paved the way for decades of racial unrest that boiled under the surface of a neighborhood that also faced a violent reaction to the integration of Gage Park High School. Fear of diminished housing values and the disconnection of ethnic bonds enjoyed by the Lithuanian community sowed the seeds of racial discord that boiled over on October 20, 2014.
Chicago Police Officer Found Guilty – “The Incident”
With trees turning bare and signs of frost clinging to fading grass blades, October 20, 2014 started the same way it usually does on the southwest side of Chicago. At 9:00 pm, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke clocked in for the graveyard shift at the Chicago Lawn District headquarters. As he and his partner departed Chicago Midway Airport shortly after 9:30 pm, Van Dyke responded to a 911 call that reported a suspect was breaking into pickup trucks parked at 41st Street and Kildare Avenue.
Officer Van Dyke and 17-year Laquan McDonald did know each other, but their lives violently intersected at the corner of 40th Street and Pulaski Road, when officer Van Dyke unholstered his police issued revolver and shot McDonald 16 times. A little more than one year passed before Van Dyke became the first Chicago police officer to be indicted on a murder charge for an on-duty shooting.
An emotionally charge trial from day one, the Van Dyke proceedings captured the attention of Americans, as well as racial equality advocates worldwide. Defense counsel presented evidence that Van Dyke defended himself from a knife-wielding McDonald, with the knife introduced into evidence early in the trial. The prosecution countered with the claim that the 16 shots fired by Van Dyke were excessive and unnecessary.
Facing a first degree murder charge for the premeditated death of McDonald, Van Dyke and his legal team claimed the shooting was committed in self defense. The judge explained to the jury upon sending the 12 members to a room for deliberation that second degree murder was also on the legal table.
On Friday October 5, 2018, the jury returned to the courtroom with a verdict of guilty on one count of second degree murder. A second degree murder conviction typically carries a sentence of no more than 20 years. The jury also found Van Dyke guilty on the aggravated battery charge.
Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon requested the judge to revoke the defendant’s bond and incarcerate Van Dyke immediately after the jury read the verdict. McMahon argued Van Dyke was now a convicted felon facing several years of jail time. McMahon’s request inflamed already heated tensions between the Chicago Police Department and the city’s African American community.
One of the most prominent civil rights attorney in Chicago, Andrew Stroth, said the conviction of Van Dyke “is a watershed moment” that proves the police reforms started right after McDonald’s death in 2014 “are real.” Stroth emphasized an acquittal would have sent the opposite message and the City of Chicago “would have erupted” if the jury had delivered a not guilty verdict. The release of video camera footage displayed the entire incident, which Stroth said “is a culmination” of the decades of frustration experienced by the city’s black community.
The violent protests that marred the city prior to the guilty verdict transformed into peaceful gatherings of racial unity during the days following Van Dyke’s second degree murder guilty verdict.
A legal expert specializing in Illinois criminal defense law said on the day after Van Dyke’s conviction the police officer would likely serve less than 10 years for the second degree murder of Laquan McDonald. Defense attorney Steve Greenberg has defended more than 100 suspects in murder trials. Greenberg said that because the jury came back with a second degree murder conviction, Van Dyke avoided the mandatory minimum 45-year sentence associated with a first degree murder conviction. Greenberg believes the judge sentencing Van Dyke will give the former Chicago police officer no more than a six-year sentence, which brings us to an important point.
What will be the reaction of the African American Community and the Chicago Police Department after the judge hands down Van Dyke’s sentence?
Future of the Relationship between the Community and Chicago Police Department
More than four years have passed since the fateful day of October 20, 2014. Racial tensions no longer boil over, but the animus between many residents of the city and the embattled police department continues to simmer just below the surface. As residents of the city wait anxiously for the sentence of Van Dyke, Chicago is still dealing with a spike in gun violence that receives national media attention. During the weekend immediately following the Van Dyke conviction, more than 70 Chicago residents were treated for gunshots wounds. Twelve Chicago residents lost their lives because of gun violence.
Chicago Police Department Superintendent, Eddie T. Johnson, addressed the violence plaguing many city neighborhoods.
“So I’ll tell you this. When I became superintendent in 2016, for the first eight months, every day, I was out in the community or with the rank and file trying to rebuild the trust and get the morale back up. So the way that you do it is you go out there. You talk to people. You invite them into your space. And you hear and listen to their concerns. And when you can, you address those concerns. Now, we’ve made some progress. Are we there yet – no. I know being a cop in Chicago for 30 years that we’ve done some things incorrectly. So I think the way you combat that is by making the department more professional.”
A Major Question Remains
How much work will the Chicago Police Department have to perform, if the sentence for Jason Van Dyke does not appease aggrieved members of the community? Time will hopefully tell and relationships between police and the community will ultimately strengthen.
We keep tabs on current events in Fresno and throughout the Country at Tryk Law, PC. Our firm handles a variety of cases involving your personal rights, including California Civil 52.1 or “The Bane Act” which makes it illegal for government officials to intentionally interfere with or attempt to interfere with a person’s civil rights by threats, intimidation, or coercion.
If you are a victim of such conduct, contact our Fresno Hate Crime Lawyers today at (559) 840-3240.