As Chicago braces for the release of dash cam footage showing Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times, the city’s controversial lead prosecutor is expected to charge the cop with first degree murder on Tuesday.
Witnesses say McDonald was walking away from officers last October, when Van Dyke opened fire on the 17-year-old from 15 feet away. Investigators later confirmed the boy was shot at least twice in the back. He was holding a small knife at the time.
The city kept the dash cam footage from the public for over a year, but it was ordered to release the video last week by a Cook County judge. Since the ruling, clergy and lawmakers have urged residents to stay calm when the video is publicized. City leaders met Monday to plan for backlash, as many expect the video will incite protests like the ones in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death. One pastor went so far as to liken McDonald and the video to a modern-day Emmett Till.
When Van Dyke is charged, he will become the first on-duty officer in Chicago to be charged with first degree murder.
The charges are unexpected because State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, the lead prosecutor in Cook County, has a history of protecting police officers accused of wrongdoing.
In 2013, Alvarez sparked outrage when she decided not to charge Officer Gildardo Sierra for shooting and killing an unarmed man named Flint Farmer — an incident that was caught on tape. Prosecutors said Sierra, who shot two other people within six months of Flint’s shooting, killing another, reasonably believed his life was in danger when he mistook a cell phone for a gun.
Earlier this year, off-duty officer Dante Servin was found not-guilty in the shooting death of Rekia Boyd on what amounted to an “incredible” technicality. Servin opened fire on a group standing in an alleyway, saying he thought he saw someone pull a gun. Boyd was shot in the head and killed. Even Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has publicly called out Servin’s “incredibly poor judgment,” announcing Monday he would be fired for his actions. But because Alvarez charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter instead of first or second degree murder, the officer was found not-guilty on the grounds that he could not shoot intentionally and recklessly simultaneously. In other words, deliberately undercharging Servin was what got him off the hook.