First successful murder prosecution in 40 years of a Chicago cop
Sentence is considered too short
By Frederick H. Lowe
Former Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke’s African-American brother- in-law said Van Dyke wasn’t a racist although he shot to death Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black teenager holding a pen knife in a non-threatening way, brutalized other black men he stopped or arrested and had 22 excessive force complaints lodged against him during his years on the job, most brought by black men.
“He’s my brother,” Keith Thompson testified at Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing on Friday.
Thompson, who is married to Van Dyke’s wife’s sister, hoped Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan would sentence Van Dyke to probation and send him back to his wife and two daughters who need him because their lives are falling apart.
Van Dyke wasn’t sentenced to probation but he received a much lighter sentence than the 18 years special prosecutors had sought. However, it was more than the probation defense attorneys wanted for Van Dyke.
Judge Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke, 40, to 81 months or 6 years and 9 months in prison for the 2014 murder of McDonald. The former police officer had been convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm on October 5, 2018 in the shooting death of McDonald.
The unshaven Van Dyke, dressed in an yellow DOC jumpsuit, was sentenced only on the second-degree murder charge.
Van Dyke was the first on-duty police officer in 40 years charged with murder to be convicted.
His arrest occurred after Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the release of a police-dash cam video showing Van Dyke repeatedly shooting McDonald who was lying on the ground, posing a threat to no one. The other cops at the scene did not pull their guns.
After Judge Gaughan issued his ruling, Pastor Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great uncle, said it was both a sad day and a happy day. “It was a victory because we got our day in court,” Hunter said. “It’s sad because we expected Van Dyke to be sentenced to more time in prison.”
Hunter said the prison sentence reduced McDonald to “ a second-class citizen which no white man is bound to respect.” U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney made that same comment in deciding the Dred Scott Decision in 1857.
Van Dyke has been housed in the Rock Island County Jail in Rock Island, Illinois, a three-hour drive from Chicago, because law enforcement officials feared he would be beaten or killed if he were incarcerated in Chicago’s Cook County Jail.
The ruling means Van Dyke will only have to serve 3 ½ years in prison before he could be released for good behavior. He also can appeal his conviction and his sentence, Judge Gaughan told a packed courtroom the George Lehman Center, the Cook County Criminal Courts Building in Chicago.
Blacks seated in the courtroom seemed stunned by the sentence. Whites in the audience stared off into space. Security was tight. The judge had ordered security guards posted facing those seated in the courtroom.
Van Dyke, a racist cop, with a black brother- in-law
The sentencing hearing took a page out of the “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Three black men who were arrested or taken into custody by Van Dyke described him as a brutal racist who African Americans employed by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct, did nothing to stop.
Edward Nance, one of the prosecution’s witnesses, wept throughout his testimony and initially was afraid to look at Van Dyke who sat a few feet away at a library table with his lawyers. Nance testified that Van Dyke and his unnamed partner stopped the car Nance was driving with a cousin as a passenger in 2007.
Van Dyke demanded that Nance ‘open the goddamn door!’ Once the door was opened, Van Dyke yanked Nance by his left arm before handcuffing him behind the back. Van Dyke then pushed Nance face down on the floor in the back of squad car, not the backseat.
“I was in severe pain,” Nance cried, as he wiped away tears that ran down his face. Van Dyke pulled Nance from the backseat floor, removed the handcuffs and said he could go. Nance asked for his driver’s license, which made Van Dyke even more angry. Instead, he ticketed Nance because his car did not have a front license plate. Nance walked home because his car, an Oldsmobile, was nowhere to be found and has not been recovered to-date.
Nance testified he has undergone four surgeries on his left and right shoulders, neck and both rotator cuffs. “I can’t sleep at night. I only sleep for an hour and a half. I’m in constant pain. I take a number of medications for the pain and I have seen two psychiatrists and psychologists.”
In 2008, he filed a civil rights suit against Van Dyke and the Chicago Police Department. The government awarded him $350,000 in damages.
A year after the award, IPRA wrote Nance a letter telling him they weren’t going to investigate his complaint against Van Dyke. “He was back on the street the next day,” Nance said.
He added that if that if IPRA had acted on his complaint, McDonald would be alive today
Jeremy Mayers, another prosecution witness, testified he was very nervous. He stopped several times to drink water from a paper cup and wipe perspiration rom his face.
He testified that Van Dyke and another officer pulled his car over March 19, 2011, citing him for not using his left turn signal and not having a light over his rear license plate.
The cops smelled liquor on his breath and found marijuana in his car. Van Dyke handcuffed him and pushed him into the patrol car. Somehow, Mayers managed to put a cough drop in his mouth. Van Dyke demanded he spit is out. Mayers refused, so Van Dyke choked him with one hand.
Mayers also filed a complaint with IPRA, but said, “I could tell they weren’t interested.”
Another prosecution witness, Vidale Joy, an author and a poet, testified that Van Dyke put a gun to his temple during a traffic stop in 2005 after calling him a black ass nigger.” Joy said he remained calm.
A much different picture of Van Dyke
Former police officers and Van Dyke’s wife, sister and brother in-law painted a much different picture of him, reciting his good qualities and saying he was a good husband and father, working hard to provide for his family, faithfully attentive to them. Many of the defense witnesses were cops or former cops who knew little about him or only recently had contact with him.
Tiffany Van Dyke, Jason’s wife of 17 years, wanted her husband sentenced to probation because she fears what may happen to him in prison.
“My children (the couple has two daughters) have paid the price of not having a father. They don’t eat. They don’t sleep. I’m afraid they may kill him in prison,” she said. “He has no malice, no hatred and no racism.”
Thompson called Van Dyke a gentle giant. “I don’t think he’s a racist. I have known him for 13 years.”
After Thompson finished testifying, Dan Herbert, Van Dyke’s attorney, whispered in his client’s ear, smiled and patted him on the shoulder.