Former Chicago police officer sentenced to nearly 7 years for shooting Laquan McDonald
Jason Van Dyke convicted of 2nd-degree murder in October
A judge has sentenced former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke to nearly seven years in prison in the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
Judge Vincent Gaughan's sentence Friday of six years and nine months came a day after another judge acquitted three other officers of trying to cover up the shooting to protect Van Dyke.
Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, including after the 17-year-old was on the ground and barely moving. A jury convicted him in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each shot.
The case went largely unnoticed until the city was forced to release police dashcam video 13 months after the shooting happened. The video sparked large protests and led to the ouster of Chicago's top police official and some department reforms.
Moments before learning the sentence, the 40-year-old Van Dyke acknowledged the teen's death, telling the judge that "as a God-fearing man and father, I will have to live with this the rest of my life."
Gaughan did not characterize Van Dyke's decision to open fire, saying only that it changed both McDonald's and Van Dyke's families forever.
Watch an edited version of the graphic dashcam video:
"That's shame," he said. "You can see the pain … on both families.… This is not easy."
He also said he knew the sentence would not please anyone. "I assume 100 per cent of people will be disappointed."
After the judge's announcement, Van Dyke's father said: "They threw him underneath the bridge."
His older daughter began crying and said "I want him home."
Race loomed over case — but mum during trial
Earlier in the day, several black motorists testified that Van Dyke used excessive force during traffic stops in the years before the 2014 shooting.
One of those witnesses, Vidale Joy, said Van Dyke used a racial slur after pulling him over in 2005, and at one point put a gun to Joy's head. He said Van Dyke "looked infuriated" and seemed "out of his mind." Under cross-examination, Joy acknowledged that he did not allege Van Dyke used a slur in his first accounts of the stop.
Another witness, Ed Nance, struggled to maintain his composure as he looked across the room to identify Van Dyke. Testifying about a 2007 traffic stop, he said the officer cursed and slammed him on the car's hood, grabbed him by the arms and pulled him to the squad car.
The National examines policing in Chicago:
Hours later, Van Dyke's relatives tried to defend him, saying he's a good father and husband who goes out of his way to help and who is not racist.
The issue of race has loomed over the case for more than four years, although it was rarely raised at trial. One of the only instances was during opening statements, when special prosecutor Joseph McMahon told jurors that Van Dyke saw "a black boy walking down the street" who had "the audacity to ignore the police."
At the sentencing, McDonald's uncle read a letter written from the slain teen's perspective, telling the court that Van Dyke killed him without provocation.
"I am a 17-year-old boy, and I am a victim of murder," Marvin Hunter said. "I am unable to speak in my own voice" because an officer "thought he would become judge, jury and executioner."
In asking for a long sentence, Hunter added: "Why should this person who ended my life forever … who has never asked for forgiveness … be free when I am dead for forever?"
'His life is over'
Van Dyke's wife said her life has been "a nightmare" since her husband was charged. She said she was denied a job and her daughter was not accepted into a dance group because of their last name.
If Van Dyke goes to prison, she said, her biggest fear is that "somebody will kill my husband for something he did as a police officer, something he was trained to do."
She looked up over her shoulder and addressed the judge directly: "His life is over. Please, please. He has paid the price already … I beg for the least amount of time."
During her testimony, Van Dyke wiped his nose and eyes with a tissue while seated at the defence table in a yellow jumpsuit.
One of his daughters blamed the media for shaming police officers "for doing their jobs."
Kaylee Van Dyke, also 17, said the media "twists events, making people create negative thoughts." She said police officers don't care about people's colour, "they care about your safety." She also said she regrets all the times she didn't hug her father.
Keith Thompson described his brother-in-law as a "gentle giant" and not a "monster." Thompson, who is black and whose wife is the sister of Van Dyke's wife, said he has never seen anything to indicate that Van Dyke is racist in the 13 years they've been acquainted.
Van Dyke's sister, Heidi Kauffunger, told the court that her brother has been abandoned by family and friends since he was charged. She begged the court for mercy and said if her brother goes to prison the family "will lose everything." She says Van Dyke's two daughters have been bullied and that the older one even had the words "16 shots" written on her school desk.