Chicago cop gets only 81 months for murder of Laquan McDonald
A man holds a sign with a photo of Laquan McDonald on it. | Paul Beaty/AP

CHICAGO – Jason Van Dyke was sentenced Friday afternoon. The former Chicago police officer made his first public appearance here since his conviction on a second degree murder charge  in an orange jumpsuit and beard– the officer was convicted in October of 2018 of second-degree murder as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery.

Prior to the sentencing the defense team asked for probation, the minimum punishment in Illinois for second-degree murder. Instead, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison for the second-degree murder of Laquan McDonald; approximately 6.75 years.

Multiple witnesses were brought up to take the stand and speak to Van Dyke’s long history of troubling and violent behaviors. One witness that prosecutors called to the stand, Vidale Joy, said he filed a complaint against Van Dyke after he was pulled from his car at a gas station near Cermak and Ogden in Chicago during August of 2005. Joy alleges that Van Dyke not only drew his weapon but made racial slurs against him as well.

Another witness, Jeremy Mayers, stated that Van Dyke choked him after she was pulled over during a routine traffic stop in 2010. “Every time I see [Van Dyke] and what happened to [Laquan McDonald] I am traumatized — It could’ve been prevented.”

One particularly emotional testimony came from a witness who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Van Dyke for an incident and won. Eric Breathett, who could barely look over to identify Van Dyke in between tears, said he’s had three surgeries as a result of the physical assault he experienced during his encounter with Van Dyke in 2007. “I couldn’t move my shoulders, I couldn’t move nothing,” said Breathett. According to his lawsuit, Breathett was dragged from his vehicle and shoved face first into the floor of the police car. Despite his pleas, Breathett claims Van Dyke told him to “shut up and lay down.”

Eventually, Breathett was uncuffed and dropped off in the middle of a street with no information as to where his vehicle or his accompanying family member was. Breathett said he has suffered from a number of trauma-related disorders since the assault and has been on medication ever since. The Oldsmobile that Breathett was driving when he was pulled over was also never recovered.

Laquan McDonald’s great uncle, Marvin Hunter, also read a letter on behalf of the McDonald family. The statement was written from the perspective of his dead great-nephew who was killed by Jason Van Dyke. “I am unable to speak with my own voice for the crimes of which I was accused and suspected of because of a Chicago police officer by the name of Jason Van Dyke who decided that he would become judge, jury, and executioner.” The letter details how McDonald’s family had to use his last check to pay for the suit he wore at his funeral. “My death has brought inconsolable pain to my mother and my baby sister,” said the statement.

The defense had Van Dyke’s family speak at the sentencing – his father, sister, and wife all took the stand. Tiffany Van Dyke, Van Dyke’s wife, alleges that her children have suffered in the aftermath of the trial and that the attachment to the “Van Dyke” name has resulted in the loss of opportunities for her family. “I lost a position that I was hired to,” Van Dyke said of her attempts to become a Cook County Correctional Officer. “They kicked me out of the academy, did not allow me to have a job where I could support my family — because my last name is Van Dyke.“ Van Dyke’s children were also present in the courthouse.

The sentencing of the former police officer took place just one day after three of Van Dyke’s former colleagues were acquitted on all counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct in connection with their efforts to cover up the shooting of McDonald. Officer Thomas Gaffney, former Officer Joseph Walsh, and former Detective David March each provided accounts of the shooting that contradicted what was eventually shown on the dash camera footage.

Joseph Walsh, who was riding in the same patrol car during the night McDonald was shot, was forced into retirement after the incident. Walsh testified during Van Dyke’s trial; stating that he “reasonably believed” McDonald to be a threat. “He was armed with a knife. I did not want him to make entry into that Burger King that had people in there.”

During closing argument, the prosecutor, Joe McMahon, stated that Van Dyke’s “devastation goes well beyond Laquan McDonald and Hunter family” and has had a nation-wide effect. Many community organizers responded to the sentencing with outrage; claiming that the punishment is not nearly severe enough to fit the crime. “They gave Jason Van Dyke a slap on the wrist for murdering my baby!” said Laquan’s grandmother post-trial.


CONTRIBUTOR

Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias is a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias has invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. She has written and conducted research in several parts of the world; most recently Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she presented on disability awareness at the U.S. Consulate. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities. She considers her experiences a privilege, one that she hopes to use as a platform for spreading socio-political consciousness. In her spare time Michelle enjoys drinking pricey wines and watching old school zombie flicks.  

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