CHICAGO — Federal authorities on Monday said they will not criminally charge Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer convicted of murder in the 2014 shooting death of Black teenager Laquan McDonald.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago said in a news release that the decision was made after consulting with the McDonald family and that the “family was in agreement not to pursue a second prosecution.”
According to the release, prosecuting Van Dyke on federal charges would have been much more difficult than it was to prosecute him in state court because the burden of proof is far higher.
Federal prosecutors “would have to prove not only that Mr. Van Dyke acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids, but also that his actions were not the result of mistake, fear, negligence, or bad judgment,” the office explained in the release. “It requires federal prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what Mr. Van Dyke was thinking when he used deadly force, and that he knew such force was excessive. ”
Van Dyke, who was captured on video shooting the teenager 16 times, was convicted in Chicago in 2018 of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to 81 months in state prison. The former officer served less than half that sentence before he was released from prison in February.
Civil rights leaders, community activists, and others who were angry about what they saw as a lenient sentence had called for federal prosecutors to charge Van Dyke again.
McDonald's relatives weren't immediately available for comment Monday, but an aunt, Tanisha Hunter, denied to the Chicago Sun-Times that her family had been made aware of federal prosecutors' decision to drop the case.
“I’m upset," she told the newspaper. "That’s all I can say. How could they say that? We’re the one’s who should make that decision, not someone else. We’re talking about his momma, his grandma. That’s crazy.”
Other relatives disagreed with the possibility of federal charges.
After news broke earlier this year that Van Dyke would be released from prison, McDonald’s great-uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, said that while he thought Van Dyke should have received a much longer sentence, he did not want to see Van Dyke charged in federal court.
“If you set this precedent of reconvicting people because you don’t think he got enough time, then hundreds of thousands of Black men in Illinois alone could be harmed,” Hunter said at the time. “They will use this case as a way to keep them incarcerated. This is a back door to perpetuate slavery. We should be very careful of this kind of precedent.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office statement Monday suggested another prosecution would not satisfy critics and that even if Van Dyke were convicted again, a federal judge would consider factors such as the time he has already served and his good conduct behind bars that led to his early release.
“Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution would diminish the important results already achieved,” it reads.
The office of U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. also pointed out that not only will Van Dyke never be a police officer again, his arrest and conviction — he was the first Chicago police officer in half a century to be convicted for an on-duty shooting — led to a host of reforms.
Today, for example, video of police shootings must be released within 60 days; Chicago fought for months to prevent the release of police video showing McDonald’s killing before a judge ordered the city to make it publicly available.
Also, Van Dyke’s name was not made public until he was charged in McDonald’s death more than a year after the shooting. Today, while police still do not release an officer’s name who hasn’t been charged, the agency that reviews those shooting does.