Chicago Cop Charged With Murder of Laquan McDonald Pleads ‘Not Guilty’

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Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at court
Jason Van DykePhoto: Antonio Perez/2015 MCT

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke appeared in a Cook County courtroom Tuesday morning and pleaded "not guilty" in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in November, after the city released an October 2014 video that showed the cop firing 16 shots into McDonald as he appeared to be walking away from the officers. 

Van Dyke — who is currently out on $1.5 million bond — faces six counts of first-degree murder and an official misconduct charge. Van Dyke’s lawyer has said the cop feared for his life and his fellow officers, reports CBS Chicago, and the evidence will come out at trial. According to the Chicago Tribune, Van Dyke is the first officer in 35 years charged with first-degree murder as a result of an on-duty incident.

Van Dyke’s arraignment comes a few days after the city of Chicago was dealing with the aftermath of another police-involved shooting, one that left a college student and a mom of five dead. The cops had been responding to a call from the student’s father, who said his son, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, was apparently threatening him with a baseball bat. Police have so far said an officer fired on LeGrier after he became "combative"; authorities admit the mother — 55-year-old Bettie Jones — was shot accidentally. 

LeGrier’s family has responded and filed a more-than-$100,000 wrongful-death suit against the city of Chicago Tuesday, saying the police shooting was unjustified and involved an excessive use of force. The suit also claims cops failed to provide medical care to the dying teen. The family of Jones, who worked with neighborhood anti-violence advocates, also intends to file a suit against the city, according to the AP.

The cop hasn’t been named yet, but has been put on desk duty for the next 30 days as Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority investigates the case.

The latest police shootings have also reignited protests, which have been taking place on a near-regular basis since the release of the Laquan McDonald video. Many of the protesters are demanding the resignation of mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, who doesn’t appear to have plans to step down, did cut his family trip to Cuba short in response to this weekend’s shooting and called for an immediate overhaul to the police department’s crisis intervention protocol. (LeGrier was apparently suffering from "emotional issues," but per the Chicago Tribune, it’s unclear if cops knew this when responding to the 911 call.) Still, the tension spilled over at a vigil for LeGrier on Sunday night, where one of Emanuel’s aides was allegedly assaulted by a man who first approached the aide, saying, "The police are killing us." 

The Justice Department will be investigating the conduct and practices of the Chicago Police Department, a decision that came soon after the McDonald video had been made public. Emanuel first resisted the federal investigation, but later backtracked on his statements, saying he "welcomed" the probe.