Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer convicted of fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014, was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday.
At his sentencing hearing he was given 81 months behind bars – equal to six years and nine months – and two years supervised mandatory release.
It was somewhat a victorious day after a long history of white law enforcement officers in wrongful death cases involving black men in the United States.
His earlier conviction was move forward where others had not been convicted, but some were unsatisfied with the judge’s focus on the second-degree murder charge.
Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke appeared in court on Friday to receive his sentence of six years for the October 2014 murder of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald
Van Dyke faces at least several years in prison, if not decades, after being convicted in October of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery – one for each time he shot McDonald
McDonald was seen crumpling to the ground in a hail of 16 bullets as he walked away from officers in shocking dashcam footage that stoked outrage nationwide
With good behavior Dyke, 40, could be released in three years.
The defense wanted Van Dyke to be sentenced for the second-degree murder charge, partly because it carries a shorter mandatory minimum prison term of four years.
Prosecutors wanted the judge to focus on the 16 aggravated battery counts. Each carries a mandatory minimum prison term of six years and sentences for each count may have had to be served consecutively instead of concurrently.
Van Dyke – the first Chicago officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting in about 50 years – got off lightly after the 16 counts of aggravated battery for each time he shot McDonald, were given less weight.
If the aggravated battery counts were given as much weight Dyke was expected to be sentenced anywhere from 18 to 20 in prison. But the state could have allowed up to 96 years, six years for each gunshot.
Dyke said minutes before his sentencing: ‘The last thing I wanted to do was shoot Laquan McDonald.’
He added after his attorneys and prosecutors summed up their cases that he has ‘prayed daily for the soul of Laquan McDonald’.
‘As a God-fearing man and father, I will have to live with this for the rest of my life, taking this to my grave,’ he added.
The embattled South Side cop wore a yellow jail jumpsuit and an unruly beard as he faced Judge Vincent Gaughan. His wife and two daughters were present at the hearing.
The 17-year-old was seen crumpling to the ground in a hail of 16 bullets as he walked away from officers in shocking dashcam footage that stoked outrage nationwide.
Judge Vincent Gaughan first heard legal arguments about which is the more serious charge against Van Dyke.
In Illinois, judges are typically required to sentence defendants for the most serious crime for which they’re convicted.
After that legal issue was settled, attorneys called a dozen witnesses to make the case for aggravating or mitigating circumstances before making the final arguments.
Van Dyke wore a yellow jail jumpsuit and an unruly beard as he faced Judge Vincent Gaughan
His wife Tiffany Van Dyke (above) and their two daughters were also present at the hearing
One of Van Dyke’s daughters took the stand to testify on her father’s behalf and blamed the media for shaming ‘police officers for doing their jobs’.
Kaylee Van Dyke told the court Friday that she wrote a paper for her high school civics class about ‘the harsh reality’ of police work.
The 17-year-old – the same age as the victim when he was killed – said she knows the positives of the job, but that she thinks the media ‘twists events, making people create negative thoughts.’
She said police officers don’t care about people’s color, ‘they care about your safety.’ She also said she regrets all the times she didn’t hug her father.
Van Dyke’s brother-in-law Keith Thompson also spoke, saying he is a ‘gentle giant’ and isn’t the ‘monster’ or ‘racist cop’ that he’s been portrayed as by the media.
Thompson said Friday at Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing that Van Dyke has always treated people fairly. 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 he’s known him.
He said it will be very difficult for the family moving forward because Van Dyke is a convicted felon.
Several black men were also called to testify during the sentencing hearing have described their own run-ins with the officer during traffic stops.
Vidale Joy told the court Friday that Van Dyke used a racial slur and put a gun to his head during a 2005 stop.
He said Van Dyke ‘looked infuriated’ and seemed ‘out of his mind.’
Under cross examination, Joy conceded that he didn’t allege in his first accounts of the traffic stop that Van Dyke had used a slur.
Witness Ed Nance wept as he testified that he hasn’t been the same since a 2007 stop.
He says Van Dyke pulled him by the arms to the squad car while he was handcuffed and that he has undergone three surgeries to his shoulders as a result.
He also says he has PTSD from the incident.
Jeremy Mayers acts out how Van Dyke allegedly choked him in 2011 during the hearing Friday
Prosecutor Joe McMahon addresses the judge at Leighton Criminal Court Building
Just after 2pm local time, a relative of McDonald was allowed to read a victim impact statement from the slain black teen’s perspective, saying Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke killed his grandnephew without provocation.
Reading from a prepared text in the first person as Laquan McDonald on Friday, the Rev Marvin Hunter said, ‘I am a 17-year-old boy’ and ‘I am unable to speak in my own voice’ because officer Jason Van Dyke ‘thought he would become judge, jury and executioner.
He added, ‘My death has brought inconsolable pain to my mother and my sister … my family. … He has not just destroyed my life but the life of his wife and children.’
In asking for a stiff sentence for Van Dyke, he said: ‘Why should this person who ended my life forever … who has never asked for forgiveness … be free when I am dead for forever?’
Shocking dashcam footage captured the moment Van Dyke fired 16 bullets at McDonald
The testimony came a day after a different judge acquitted three officers accused of trying to conceal what happened to protect Van Dyke, who was the first Chicago officer found guilty in an on-duty shooting in a half century and probably the first ever in the shooting of an African-American.
Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson cleared former officer Joseph Walsh, former detective David March and officer Thomas Gaffney on charges of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.
Stephenson accepted the argument that jurors in the Van Dyke case rejected: that the video that sparked protests and a federal investigation of the police force was just one perspective of the events that unfolded on the South Side.
The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation between Van Dyke and the teen armed with a small knife. She found no indication the officers tried to hide evidence or made little effort to talk to witnesses.
‘The evidence shows just the opposite,’ she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
The testimony came a day after a different judge acquitted three officers accused of trying to conceal what happened to protect Van Dyke. former Officer Joseph Walsh, former Chicago Police Detective David March, and Officer Thomas Gaffney (pictured left to right in court) were facing charges of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice
Prosecutor Ron Safer tried to put a positive spin on the verdict.
‘This case was a case where the code of silence was on trial,’ he said, referring to the long tradition that officers do not report wrongdoing by their colleagues. ‘The next officer is going to think twice about filing a false police report. Do they want to go through this?’
The judge in her ruling rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving even after he was shot.
‘An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,’ she said. ‘It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground’ and refused to relinquish a knife.
The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.
Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.
City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 – 13 months after the shooting – and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.