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Video Release Sped Up Charges Against Officer Who Killed Laquan: Alvarez

By Erica Demarest | November 24, 2015 3:59pm
 Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (second from right) said the shooting that killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (second from right) said the shooting that killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was "not justified and not a proper use of deadly force."
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DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez on Tuesday said the impending release of dash-cam footage depicting a Chicago Police officer fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy pushed up her timeline to file charges.

Officer Jason Van Dyke on Tuesday was charged with first-degree murder for the fatal shooting on Oct. 20, 2014, that left Laquan McDonald riddled with 16 bullets.

It's the first time, to Alvarez's knowledge, a Chicago Police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty shooting.

The state's attorney has taken heat for waiting more than a year to charge Van Dyke. At a news conference Tuesday, Alvarez said she's been planning to file charges "for weeks" but moved forward earlier than planned after a Cook County judge ordered the city to release footage of the fatal shooting by Wednesday.

"Throughout the course of our investigation I've seen the video on a number of occasions and I can tell you: It is everything that it has been described to be by the news accounts," Alvarez said Tuesday. "It is graphic, it is violent, it is chilling. I have been a prosecutor for nearly 30 years. I have personally investigated and prosecuted numerous cases of police misconduct and public corruption. I've been involved in hundreds of murder investigations and trials, and I have seen some of the most violent and graphic evidence and crime scene photos that you can only imagine. To watch a 17-year-old young man die in such a violent manner is deeply disturbing, and I have absolutely no doubt that this video will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans. I know that Laquan's mother and some family members have been opposed to the release of this video, and I certainly understand their concerns and their anguish. As a mother, I cannot imagine the personal pain that Laquan's mother and his family have dealt with and will continue to deal with when the video is made public. I hope that the citizens will take this into consideration and show respect and restraint in their actions following the release of this video."

Aldermen have been told the video will be released at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

According to prosecutors, Van Dyke was called to 41st and Pulaski just before 10 p.m on Oct. 20, 2014, when police responding to an incident involving Laquan requested backup and a Taser. Laquan had been stealing radios from trucks, prosecutors said, and was carrying a three-inch blade.

Van Dyke had been on the scene no more than 30 seconds when he began shooting at Laquan, prosecutors said. There were at least eight other officers on the scene — none of whom opened fire — and witnesses said Laquan never tried to lunge at Van Dyke or threaten him with the knife in any way, prosecutors said.

Alvarez on Tuesday said the shooting was "not justified and not a proper use of deadly force."

She told reporters she's been investigating the case with the help of the FBI since last November — noting that investigations into officer-involved shootings can take up to 20 months and that her investigation into Van Dyke was "tenacious" and "meticulous."

"I'd rather take my time and get it right than rush to judgment and get it wrong," Alvarez said.

"The public needs to know that while it would seem to some that the 12 months of investigation with our federal partners has taken too long, investigations of police shootings ... are highly complex matters."

Alvarez said she made the decision "weeks ago" to charge Van Dyke with Laquan's murder, but didn't initially plan to pursue charges until a later date when the FBI wrapped up its end of the investigation.

But when Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled last week that video footage from a Chicago Police car dash camera should be released this week, Alvarez changed her mind, she said.

"I felt compelled in the interest of public safety to announce these charges today," Alvarez said. "Maintaining public safety is my No. 1 job, and I do not want the public to view this video without knowing this very important context that with these charges, we are bringing the full measure of justice that this demands. To be clear, the judge's order that the city must release the video by November 25 certainly moved up the timing of our announcement, but it did not in any way dictate our decision to charge this defendant with first-degree murder."

During Van Dyke's bond hearing Tuesday, Assistant State's Attorney William Delaney referenced the video footage several times as he laid out allegations against Van Dyke.

Judge Donald Panarese Jr. said he'd need to review the video before setting bond.

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to hold you no bail," Judge Panarese told Van Dyke, who stood before him in faded jeans and a pea-green sweatshirt. After Panarese watches the video, Van Dyke will have another bond hearing on Monday to determine whether he's allowed to post bond.

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