On November 24, 2015, Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with six counts of first degree murder and one count of official misconduct for killing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Now, the Chicago Tribune reports that Van Dyke will face an additional 16 charges—one for each shot he fired into McDonald’s body.
The additional 16 counts of aggravated battery come from a newly seated grand jury. The indictment was handed down on March 16, but it was unsealed yesterday (March 23). The Tribune reports that Joseph McMahon, the special prosecutor appointed to handle the case, did not disclose the reason for seeking the additional charges, but criminal defense attorney Steven Decker told the Tribune that the charges might be meant to give jurors an option other than a murder conviction.
“Jurors may be pained and uncomfortable to convict a police officer of murder under these circumstances,” Decker said. “In a moment of leniency, they may decide to convict him of aggravated battery instead.” A first-degree murder conviction in Illinois can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Aggravated battery can result in a sentence of anywhere from two to 60 years.
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, has alleged that the original grand jury was misled by prosecutors who instructed them to only consider the first-degree murder statute and not a law that centers on use of force.
Van Dyke, who is White, shot and killed McDonald in October 2014, claiming that the Black teen charged at him with a knife. But dash cam video released more than a year after the incident showed that the boy was walking away from police when he was shot, with 13 of the shots coming after he was already on the ground. The shooting provoked widespread protest and led to a change in police department leadership and the ouster of the Cook County state’s attorney. The new police superintendent has indicated that he wants to fire Van Dyke and other offices who allegedly lied about the events on the night of McDonald’s death, but McMahon has asked the Chicago Police Board to hold off on hearings until the conclusion of Van Dyke’s criminal trial. The trial date has not yet been released.