Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago cop who shot a black teenager 16 times, is now facing an additional 16 charges. The 16 aggravated assault charges that were filed against Van Dyke were for each bullet he fired at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014. On Thursday, the new charges were filed against Van Dyke, who is also charged with McDonald’s murder. Van Dyke pleaded not guilty to the new charges, Guns.com reports.
McDonald’s murder sparked mass protests across the country and increased tensions between the police and blacks in Chicago. The case also led to increased scrutiny and skepticism of the Chicago police department, including a Justice Department investigation into Chicago police practices and the firing of the previous police superintendent last year as protests intensified.
A video of the shooting was released which contradicted Van Dyke’s account of the incident. The video seems to prove that McDonald’s shooting was unjustified and unnecessary while also demonstrating how blatantly and casually police officers had lied about the circumstances, The New York Times wrote. Such “code of silence” cover-ups of misconduct, critics said, had rarely been made so plain as in the discrepancy between the officers’ accounts of the killing and what the video later showed. It also showed Van Dyke firing his weapon at the teen 16 times in less than 15 seconds — most of them while the young man was already on the ground.
Van Dyke, a white officer, maintains that at the time of the incident the teen was armed with a knife and he felt threatened, although in the video of the incident it is seen that McDonald was moving away from him when he received the first shot. After the shots you see a policeman approaching McDonald while he’s lying down, then kicking a small knife that was next to him.
Protests over McDonald’s death went on in November 2015 for days, with protesters calling for the resignation of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois state prosecutor, Latina Anita Alvarez, whom they accused of covering up evidence by preventing the video of the incident from being released for a year.
The seven officers recommended for firing were accused of making false reports. They had backed up Officer Van Dyke’s account that McDonald had moved menacingly toward him with a knife. However, their story was contradicted by the video of the shooting; while Mr. McDonald had a knife, he seemed to be veering away from the police when Officer Van Dyke shot him, and the gunfire continued after the teenager collapsed to the ground, the report states. Van Dyke, the only officer who fired his gun that night, is currently awaiting trial.
The extension of the charges against the disgraced police officer comes at a time when Judge Vincent Gaughan, of the Cook District, Illinois, is preparing the sentence against the veteran agent. The new 23-count indictment against Van Dyke will supersede the initial 2015 charges. The new charges consist of 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, six counts of first-degree murder, and one count of official misconduct.
Although the events occurred in October 2014, Van Dyke was not indicted until November 2015, after the shocking video of the incident was released. According to the Chicago Sun Times, in early February, Van Dyke’s lawyers filed a motion for the homicide charges to be dismissed, arguing that the official’s statements to investigators were used inappropriately against him. According to the attorneys, these new charges are based on another series of “irregularities that were committed” before the case was presented to a Grand Jury.
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg said the move to re-indict Van Dyke was unusual.
“If there were problems with the grand jury the first time, maybe you’ve cured that, but that will be up to the judge,” Greenberg was quoted as saying.
[Image via Scott Olson / Getty Images]