City releases dash-cam video of 2014 slaying of black teenager

By Meggie Morris, Steve Musal and Steven Porter

Chicago officials released a dash-cam video Tuesday showing a white police officer fatally shooting  17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times a year ago,  as ordered by a Cook County judge last week.

The release coincides with Tuesday’s charges against Jason Van Dyke, 37, a 14-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, who faces a first-degree murder charge in the black teenager’s death on Oct. 20, 2014.

Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama on Thursday ordered the release  of the graphic footage by the middle of this week after the City fought for months to prevent its disclosure to the public.

The silent video shows McDonald walking in the center of a Chicago street as officers confront him with guns drawn. McDonald, apparently struck by bullets,  falls to the ground as puffs  of smoke emerge  from and around his body.

After several seconds one of the officers kicks the knife away from his hand. McDonald lies barely moving until the video ends. (At your discretion, you can view the video at the bottom of this story.)

Shooting collage from video
A series of screen captures from dashcam video showing Laquan McDonald shortly before being shot and in the moments immediately after the first bullets hit. (Captured from Chicago Police video released Nov. 24, 2015)

Chicago-area community and religious leaders listen to Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel speak Nov. 24. Emanuel praised community leaders for working with his office and with CPD in the past days following the announcement that the city would release a dashcam video showing the 2014 slaying of black teenager Laquan McDonald. (Steve Musal/Medill)
Community and religious leaders listen to  Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday. Emanuel praised them for working with his office  after Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama last week ordered the city to release the police dash-cam video. (Steve Musal/Medill)

At Van Dyke’s bond hearing,  prosecutors from State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office said Van Dyke fired 16 shots in about 15 seconds, and during 13 of those seconds McDonald was lying on the ground. Prosecutors said the puffs of dust were caused by fired bullets.

But Van Dyke’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, cautioned those who are following the case not to rush to judgment.

Daniel Herbert, lawyer for Jason Van Dyke, issues a statement following an initial bond hearing Nov. 24. Though he declined to take questions, Herbert urged that the case be tried in court, not “in the streets, in the media and on Facebook.” (Steve Musal/Medill)
Daniel Herbert, lawyer for Jason Van Dyke, issues a statement following an initial bond hearing Tuesday, urging that his client’s  case be tried in the courtroom. (Steve Musal/Medill)

“This is a case that can’t be tried in the streets …  in the media and on Facebook,” Herbert said at a press conference following the bond hearing. “The judgment made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa, it’s not the same standard as the perspective from my client.”

Herbert also decried Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “irresponsible” comments earlier this week regarding Van Dyke’s shooting of McDonald, calling them prejudicial to his client.

At a late afternoon press conference marking the release of the dash-cam video, however, Emanuel remained resolute in his position.

“Like all public servants that are here, including officers, we hold our police officers to a high standard,” Emanuel said. “Obviously, in this case, Jason Van Dyke violated both the standard of professionalism that comes with being a police officer, but also the basic moral standards that bind our community together.”

But Emanuel also said it was the duty of all Chicagoans to build a stronger community, one where the circumstances that led to McDonald’s slaying were overcome by a sense of partnership between community members and police officers who were part of that community rather than looking at it as a source of potential problems. In that, he echoed a speech made by President Barack Obama to the International Association of Chiefs of Police last month.

“This is a case that can’t be tried in the streets, … in the media or on Facebook.”

— Daniel Herbert, Jason Van Dyke’s lawyer

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy called McDonald’s slaying “a tragic ending for, unfortunately, a tragic life of a young man,” adding that McDonald had been “betrayed on a number of different levels.”

“Typically, these cases end up in the police department’s hands,” McCarthy said. “In this case, it ended up in his death. We are not the least bit pleased about this.”

Dean C. Angelo, president of Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7, takes questions at a press conference Nov. 24 following an initial bond hearing for Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke faces a first-degree murder charge in connection with the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald, an African American man. Angelo said he trusts the court to weigh the evidence against Van Dyke and judge him fairly, and until a judgment is rendered, he stands by Van Dyke — as Angelo said he was elected to do. (Steve Musal/Medill)
At Tuesday’s news conference, Dean C. Angelo, president of Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7,  said he trusts the court to weigh the evidence against Jason Van Dyke and judge him fairly, and until a judgment is rendered, he stands by the officer. (Steve Musal/Medill)

But both McCarthy and Emanuel, along with community leaders, urged Chicagoans to express their anger and passion in peaceful ways.

“People have a right to be angry, people have a right to protest, people have a right to free speech,” McCarthy said. “But they do not have a right to commit criminal acts.”

It was a statement that sounded very much like an earlier statement by Corey Brooks, pastor of New Beginnings Church in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side, who told reporters Monday he and other religious leaders are calling for peaceful demonstrations, but they shouldn’t be held responsible for the public’s actions.

“I let the mayor know from my point of view that if this goes awry, it’s not any of the pastors’ fault,” Brooks said. “If these demonstrations turn to riots or things of that sort, we can’t be blamed for that, nor should we be responsible for the direction of a group of people if they decide to do something other than what we’re asking them to do.”

Emanuel, who claimed at the press conference that he was waiting to watch the video along with the public, said it was absolutely appropriate that viewers form their own opinions on Van Dyke’s actions.

“The incident and actions in the video will be debated and discussed in the days ahead,” Emanuel said.

Meanwhile, Van Dyke will be held in Cook County Jail with no bond set, until Judge Donald Panarese Jr. can review the video. A new bond hearing is set for Monday.

VIEWER CAUTION ADVISEDBelow is the dashcam video released on Tuesday. The shooting occurs shortly after the 5-minute point.

Photo at top: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at a press conference Tuesday,  urging Chicagoans to use the video’s release, along with Van Dyke’s indictment on a charge of first-degree murder, as an opportunity to build stronger communities. (Steve Musal/Medill)