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Graphic Footage Shows Chicago Cop Facing Murder Charge Spray Teen With Bullets

The city of Chicago tried to keep dash-cam footage of police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald sealed for more than a year.

by VICE News
Nov 24 2015, 11:50pm

Image via YouTube

The city of Chicago just released dash-cam footage that shows the shooting of 17-year-old African-American teen Laquan McDonald by white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city's police department tried to keep the footage sealed for more than a year. The city settled with McDonald's family for $5 million in the months after the shooting, and, while the family's attorney saw the video, it was never made public. But last Thursday, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Brandon Smith, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ordered the city to release the footage. 

"I understand that people will be upset and will want to protest when they see this video," Emanuel said at a press on Tuesday before the video was released. "It's fine to be passionate, but it's essential to be peaceful."

The graphic dashboard video shows McDonald, who was carrying a knife, walking down the median of a highway in Chicago at night, parallel to several police cars stationed across the street. Van Dyke and one other officer are out of their car with guns drawn as McDonald gets closer.

Van Dyke shoots McDonald several times at close range. McDonald crumples to the pavement, and several bullets appear to hit the ground next to his body. Police then approach McDonald and kick the knife away from his hand.

Hours before the video was made public, Cook County Prosecutor Anita Alvarez charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder. He was denied bail at a hearing in Chicago's main criminal courthouse. If convicted, Van Dyke could face 20 years to life in prison.

At the brief court hearing, prosecutor Bill Delaney told Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Donald Panarese that video of the October 20, 2014 shooting does not show McDonald, who was armed with a knife, advancing toward Van Dyke, and that witnesses' testimony supports this version of events.

Police have long maintained that McDonald had "lunged" at the officer, which provoked the fatal shooting. The Chicago police took steps immediately after the shooting to cover up evidence of the event, including reportedly deleting surveillance footage from a nearby Burger King.

Related: The FBI Director Says Cops Are 'Under Siege' From Viral Videos

Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, emptying his gun and preparing to reload, prosecutors said on Tuesday. Van Dyke has repeatedly said through his lawyer and his police union that the shooting was justified because he felt threatened by McDonald, who was allegedly stealing radios prior to the encounter.

But on Tuesday, prosecutor Alvarez disputed the officer's version of events. "Clearly this officer went overboard and he abused his authority and I don't think use of force was necessary," she said at a news conference after the court hearing.

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. (Photo via Cook County Sheriff)

According to court documents filed by the prosecution, Van Dyke spent 13 seconds firing as McDonald lay motionless on the street.

He was reportedly prepared to fire into McDonald's motionless body before another officer convinced him to lower his weapon. Van Dyke had already logged 18 civilian complaints for a variety of allegations, including claims of misconduct and excessive force. The city paid out more than $500,000 to settle the complaints.

McDonald's family has said they did not want the video to be made public. "This is a difficult time for us," the family said in a statement. "As we have said in the past, while we would prefer that the video not be released we understand that a court has ordered otherwise."

Protesters gathered in the streets of Chicago after the video was released, chanting "16 shots," for the number of times McDonald was hit, and "We got to fight back!"

Several prominent activists reacted to the video on Twitter, with Black Lives Matter leader Deray Mckesson calling for Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign.

"The attack on #LaquanMcDonald was horrific and justice cannot go unserved," the NAACP tweeted in response to the video. "His family and the community deserve action."

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Reuters contributed to this report