Grover Thompson (274598)

The White Chicago officer who gunned down a Black teenager in 2014 was sentenced Friday to nearly seven years in prison, ending an explosive case that arose from one of the nation’s most graphic dashcam videos and added fuel to debates about race and policing and law enforcement’s “code of silence,” reports the Associated Press. Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet fired at Laquan McDonald. Attorneys on both sides agreed that if he behaves in prison, the 40-year-old could be released in less than three and a half years. McDonald’s family lamented that the penalty was too light. His great uncle said the sentence reduced Laquan McDonald’s life to that of “a second-class citizen” and “suggests to us that there are no laws on the books for a Black man that a White man is bound to honor.” Moments earlier, Van Dyke acknowledged the teen’s death, telling the judge “as a God-fearing man and father, I will have to live with this the rest of my life.” The sentence was less than half of the penalty that had been sought by prosecutors, who asked for 18 to 20 years. But it went far beyond the request of defense attorneys, who argued that Van Dyke could be released on probation. The prison term was also a fraction of what Van Dyke could have faced had he been convicted of first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory minimum of 45 years in prison. Judges typically rebuke defendants during sentencings, even for much lesser crimes, and they often explain why they imposed the sentence they did. But Judge Vincent Gaughan did neither in his brief comments from the bench. Friday’s testimony came a day after a different judge acquitted three officers accused of lying about the shooting 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. The lead defense attorney, Dan Herbert, said Van Dyke “truly felt great” after learning his sentence. “He was happy about the prospect of life ahead of him” and someday being reunited with his wife and two daughters. The prosecutor that oversaw the case said he can live with the sentence. “Our goal was to find the truth, present the truth and ask for justice. … It was not revenge,” special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said. The judge’s decision to deem the second-degree murder conviction the most serious crime — siding with the defense on that question — may also have spared Van Dyke a far longer term behind bars. Had Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke on the 16 counts of aggravated battery, as prosecutors asked him to do, he could have faced decades in prison. Each aggravated battery count carried a mandatory minimum of six years, and the judge could have ordered those sentences to be served one after the other. After the judge’s announcement, Van Dyke’s older daughter began crying and said “I want him home.” The case triggered large street demonstrations when the video emerged, and authorities prepared for potential unrest in October, when the verdict came out. But there were no sign of protests following the sentence. Activist William Calloway called the sentence “a slap in the face to us and a slap on the wrist” for Van Dyke. The issue of race loomed over the case for more than four years, although it was rarely raised at trial. One of the only instances was during opening statements, when the special prosecutor told jurors that Van Dyke saw “a black boy walking down the street” who had “the audacity to ignore the police.” On Friday, several black motorists testified that the officer used a racial slur and excessive force during traffic stops in the years before the shooting. The case cost Van Dyke and the police superintendent their jobs and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term. The accusations triggered a federal investigation of the police department that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated people’s rights, particularly minorities.