CHICAGO — Federal prosecutors won’t pursue a case against Jason Van Dyke, the former Chicago police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the decision in a Monday news release, saying its prosecutors would face a “very high bar” in securing a conviction against Van Dyke — and, even if they were able to do so, whatever sentence there might be could “diminish the important results already achieved.”
McDonald’s relatives could not immediately be reached for comment. As recently as February, some of McDonald’s family called for Van Dyke to face federal charges; but the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the family was more recently in agreement not to pursue charges.
“The public should not draw conclusions regarding how the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] Office is likely in the future to analyze incidents of alleged crimes by law enforcement officers,” according to the news release. “The Department of Justice remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers and will continue to devote the resources required to ensure that credible allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly examined.”
Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times, was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to 81 months in prison in 2018 after state prosecutors brought charges against him. He was released from prison in early February, with his sentence cut short for good behavior.
Many said that sentence was too short, and they called for Van Dyke to face federal charges.
But federal prosecutors would have to show Van Dyke “willfully deprived Mr. McDonald of a constitutional right,” which would mean they’d need to show Van Dyke deliberately broke the law and his actions were “not the result of mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgment,” according to the news release. Prosecutors would have to show what Van Dyke was thinking when he shot McDonald and that he knew the shooting was an excessive use of force, according to the agency.
And if prosecutors secured a conviction, the judge who imposed a sentence would have to consider the time Van Dyke already spent in prison, how his conduct led to him being released early and how he is not and will never again be a police officer, according to the agency.
“Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution would diminish the important results already achieved,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Van Dyke killed McDonald Oct. 20, 2014, but the shooting initially did not garner widespread attention.
The video showed McDonald — who officers said had been behaving erratically that night and was carrying a knife — walking outside while other police officers and cars were around him. Van Dyke arrived at the scene and, within seconds of getting out of his car, fired 16 shots at the teenager as McDonald appeared to be walking away from him.
Van Dyke was the first Chicago police officer to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting.