Officer Jason Van Dyke: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2012. (Twitter/Idschi)

A white Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder after he fatally shot a black teen in October 2014.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who has been the target of several complaints accusing him of excessive force and making racial slurs, is on paid desk duty. Van Dyke, 37, shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times while he was 12 to 15 feet away, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Van Dyke turned himself in Tuesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said in a press release. A judge has ordered that he be held without bail.

McDonald’s family settled a lawsuit with the city for $5 million in April. McDonald was holding a knife when he was shot. He was suspected of committing a robbery prior to the shooting, which came at the end of a foot chase.

Video of the shooting will be released Tuesday. You can watch the video here.

Here’s what you need to know about Van Dyke and the shooting:


1. He’s the First Chicago Police Officer to Be Charged With First-Degree Murder in an On-Duty Shooting

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder. (Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office)

Jason Van Dyke arrived at court Tuesday morning to face charges in the shooting.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder in an on-duty shooting. A federal civil rights investigation is still ongoing.

You can read the details of the state’s case against Van Dyke below:

Van Dyke was the only officer among five at the scene to fire at McDonald. He opened fire just six seconds after getting out of his vehicle, while the other officers tried to surround McDonald, while waiting for a Taser.

According to the Chicago Tribune, officers began to follow McDonald after he was allegedly trying to break into vehicles at a trucking yard. The officers followed him for nearly a half-mile, through a Burger King parking lot and onto a busy street. The officers were waiting for backup units with Tasers and tried to corral McDonald to keep him away from passers-by, the Tribune reported.

The caller reporting the attempted break-ins at the trucking yard had told police McDonald was armed with a knife and had threatened him with it. He also punctured a tire of a police vehicle that was following him and struck the vehicle’s windshield.

The shooting was recorded on a dashboard camera in a police vehicle. A judge ruled on November 19 that the city must release the video to the public by November 25, and the city has said it will not appeal. The city had previously argued the video should not be released because of pending investigations.

Laquan McDonald (Family photo)

An attorney for McDonald’s family, Jeffrey Neslund, described what the video shows to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Neslund said the video shows McDonald walking west in the middle of Pulaski Street with a knife in his right hand. Two officers jump out of a SUV with their guns drawn. McDonald can be seen continuing to walk west, with a lane of traffic separating him from the officers. One of the officers, later identified as Jason Van Dyke, begins shooting from about 12 to 15 feet away from McDonald. The teen is spun around by the first shots and the officer continues firing. McDonald falls to the ground and an officer walks up to him and kicks the knife out of his hand.

McDonald, who had PCP in his system, was shot 16 times, including in chest, neck, back, arms and leg, an autopsy found.


2. Van Dyke’s Attorney Says He Was in Fear for His Life

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. (Facebook)

An attorney for Officer Van Dyke says his client followed police procedure and didn’t commit any wrongdoing, saying he felt he was in fear for his life. He has also said he is concerned the video could cause someone to do harm to Van Dyke, because they will not understand the context of what it shows.

“The video is graphic, disturbing and difficult to watch, as any video of a man being shot to death would be,” Herbert told the Tribune. “It’s impossible from viewing the video to determine exactly what my client was experiencing at the time in which he fired the shots. … It’s not showing from his eyes, which is an important distinction.”

The police union also says Van Dyke was in fear for his life.

“The officers are responding to someone with a knife in a crazed condition who stabs out tires on a vehicle, on a squad car,” Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden told the Chicago Tribune. “You obviously aren’t going to sit down and have a cup of coffee with him. He is a very serious threat to the officers, and he leaves them no choice at that point but to defend themselves.”

The police department said in a statement the day after the shooting that McDonald refused orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers before he was shot.


3. His Wife Started a Now-Deleted GoFundMe Page to Raise Money

Van Dyke. (Facebook)

Van Dyke is married and has two children. His wife, Tiffany Van Dyke, started a GoFundMe page on the day her husband was arrested. The page was deleted after about $10,000 was raised, NBC Chicago reports.

Tiffany Van Dyke wrote on the page, “My husband is having a bond hearing and if we do not raise this money he will be detained on 11/24/15. With the holidays approaching our husband and father needs to be home with his family. I sincerely thank you in advance for your kind donation. I do not want to have to fight this battle alone nor can we afford to fight it.”

The page was taken down by 11 a.m.

“He is scared to death about possible outcomes here,” his attorney, Daniel Herbert, said during a press conference Friday afternoon. “But he has been a professional and he has really been selfless. His concern is for his wife and his two young kids who are in grammar school.”

Jason Van Dyke, 37, has been a Chicago police officer since 2001. According to the Chicago Tribune, he has spent most of his career working in high-crime areas.

He spent four years working for a specialized unit that “aggressively” went into neighborhoods experiencing spikes in violent crimes, the Tribune reports. The unit was disbanded by police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

He then served as a patrol officer in the Englewood police district, which the newspaper says is one of the most violent neighborhoods in the city. He was transferred to the Chicago Lawn district in 2013, which is where the McDonald shooting occurred.


4. Citizens Have Filed 18 Complaints Against Him, Including Claims He Made Racial Slurs

(Facebook)

According to data recently released by the University of Chicago Law School’s Citizen Police Data Project, citizens have made 18 complaints against Jason Van Dyke since 2006. The complaints include accusations of excessive force and claims he made racial slurs.

He has never been disciplined. You can see details on all of the complaints here. The New York Times has also obtained documents about the complaints.

Van Dyke was accused of calling a suspect the n-word in January 2013. Then, in December 2013, Van Dyke was accused of calling suspects the n-word while serving a search warrant. He was cleared in both incidents.

In April 2008, a suspect accused Van Dyke of unjustifiably pointing his gun at him after he had been tackled to the ground by his partner.

In 2011 he was accused of choking a suspect who had been charged with driving under the influence. The suspect said Van Dyke smelled a cough drop on the suspect’s breath and told him to spit it out. When the suspect refused, Van Dyke allegedly grabbed him by the throat and began choking him.


5. A Jury Found He Committed Excessive Force While Handcuffing a Suspect in 2007

Officer Jason Van Dyke. (Facebook)

A federal jury in a civil case found that Van Dyke and his partner used excessive force on a suspect, Ed Nance, in 2007. Van Dyke, who was found to have used the excessive force while handcuffing the man, was not disciplined, despite the city paying $350,000 to the suspect and $180,000 in legal fees to his attorneys.

The city investigators cleared Van Dyke because they said there were no witnesses to the alleged excessive force.

“They looked like, OK, so what, go (back) to work,” Nance told the Chicago Tribune. “They was back on the street like nothing ever happened.”

The incident occurred in July 2007, when Nance was pulled over, allegedly for not having a front license plate, though Nance denied that claim.

You can read Nance’s claims against Van Dyke below:

According to Nance, Van Dyke pulled his arms back violently while forcibly handcuffing him, causing injuries to his shoulder tendons and rotater cuff.

Van Dyke claimed he was worried Nance was dangerous because he hadn’t pulled over immediately, according to court documents. He said it “just didn’t feel right.” He said Nance was loud and belligerent, so he feared he might be violent or have a weapon.

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