The white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times in 2014 was convicted of murder Friday in a case that ignited protests throughout the city.
A jury took barely 24 hours to find Jason Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder for the fatal October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17.
Upon hearing the verdict, crowds outside the courthouse erupted in cheers. Jumping up and down and hugging one another, they chanted, “Justice for Laquan! Justice for Laquan!” Cars honked as they passed by the courthouse and passengers cheered.
In addition to the second-degree murder charge, Van Dyke was found guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery.
Van Dyke faced charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct after killing McDonald when responding to a report of someone breaking into vehicles. The mostly white jury was permitted to also consider second-degree murder. The only charge they found him not guilty of was official misconduct.
Van Dyke listened silently as the verdict was read, taking a swig from a water bottle at one point. After the verdict, Van Dyke, whose bond was immediately revoked, was taken into custody.
The deadly encounter unfolded when officers came upon McDonald, who had a knife, and called for an officer with a Taser to respond to the scene. Before that officer could arrive, Van Dyke opened fire and shot McDonald.
Dashcam footage of the shooting released a year later showed McDonald walking away from the officers when Van Dyke opened fire and continued to shoot at the teen, even when he was already on the ground. The video unleashed a series of mass protests and citywide unrest.
Illinois Fraternal Order of Police State Lodge President Chris Southwood slammed the verdict.
“This is a day I never thought I’d see in America, where 12 ordinary citizens were duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant,” he said in a statement. he added: “What cop would still want to be proactive fighting crime after this disgusting charade, and are law abiding citizens ready to pay the price?”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson called for unity.
“While the jury has heard the case and reached their conclusion, our collective work is not done. The effort to drive lasting reform and rebuild bonds of trust between residents and police must carry on with vigor,” they said in a joint statement.
Officials in Chicago had braced for potential unrest, especially if jurors found Van Dyke not guilty. Some schools made plans for early dismissals, lockdowns or recess indoors, reported the Chicago Tribune.
The guilty verdict stunned some.
“This is justice, this is justice,” said Steve Rogers, an activist at the courthouse. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Van Dyke gave his side of the story in a dramatic courtroom moment Tuesday, where he tried to place the blame on McDonald, who he said was “advancing” toward him and would not drop the knife he was holding.
“He got right about 10 to 15 feet away from me,” Van Dyke said in his testimony, his eyes filling with tears.
“We never lost eye contact, his eyes were bugging out, his face was just expressionless,” Van Dyke said. “He turned his torso towards me. He waved the knife from his lower right side upwards across his body towards my left shoulder.”
“I shot him,” he said.
The prosecution quickly countered that Van Dyke’s account was not corroborated by video evidence of the shooting.
In their closing arguments, the prosecution said Van Dyke could have taken many other actions, but in the end chose to use deadly force without justification.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Dan Herbert had argued that Van Dyke was justified in his use of force and the death was a “tragedy, but not a murder.”
“It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step,” he said. “At any point throughout that 20-some-minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped that knife, he’d be here today.”
Herbert added that the video evidence did not show the full picture of the night’s events.
“It shows a perspective, but not the right perspective,” he said.
The shooting sparked a probe from the Justice Department that found deep-rooted systemic civil rights violations by Chicago’s police department and prompted the release of a plan with far-reaching police reforms.
One current and two former Chicago police officers were charged last June with state felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct for allegedly helping to cover up for Van Dyke.
Safia Samee Ali reported from Chicago, and Daniella Silva and Elizabeth Chuck from New York.