Crime

Chicago Policeman Charged With Murder In 2014 Shooting Of Black Teen

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. Photo from Cook County State's Attorney's Office via Reuters

A white Chicago policeman on Tuesday was charged with murdering a black teenager, with authorities hoping to stave off a fresh burst of the turmoil over race and police use of deadly force that has shaken the United States for more than a year.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, was denied bail at a hearing in Chicago's main criminal courthouse hours after a state prosecutor, Anita Alvarez, announced charges of first-degree murder, or killing without lawful justification.

At the brief court hearing, prosecutor Bill Delaney told Cook County Circuit Court Associate Judge Joseph Panarese that a video of the Oct. 20, 2014 shooting does not show Laquan McDonald, 17, who was armed with a knife, advancing on Van Dyke, and that witnesses concur on that fact.

The judge scheduled another hearing for Monday and asked to see the video then in order to reconsider the issue of bond. If convicted, Van Dyke could face 20 years to life in prison.

Alvarez told a news conference that prosecutors moved up the timing of the charges ahead of the release of the video.

"With release of this video it's really important for public safety that the citizens of Chicago know that this officer is being held responsible for his actions," Alvarez said.

Last week, a court ordered the release of the video taken by a police patrol car's dashboard camera showing the killing of McDonald, who was shot 16 times. Chicago authorities said they would make it public on Wednesday.

City officials on Monday met with black community leaders who said they feared violent protests in reaction to the video, and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel appealed for calm. Politicians and church leaders in Chicago's troubled Austin neighborhood urged potential demonstrators to protest peacefully.

"We feel your pain, but we challenge you to turn your pain into power. We know protests are coming, please allow them to be peaceable," the Rev. Ira Acree said at a news conference on Tuesday.

McDonald's death was one of several fatalities in cities across the United States involving police and captured on camera in the past 18 months, leading to protests and questions about whether police use deadly force too quickly and reigniting a debate on race relations.

The uproar also gave rise to the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement and has become a main issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

In Minnesota on Tuesday, police were searching for three white men in the shooting of five people near a Minneapolis police station where demonstrators have gathered for more than a week to protest the shooting of an unarmed black man by officers.

TOLD TO HOLD FIRE

Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Bill Delaney told the judge that Van Dyke's partner, identified as "Officer A," saw Van Dyke preparing to reload his weapon and told him to hold fire.

Prosecutors said that McDonald was on the ground for 13 seconds between the time he first hit the ground and the moment Van Dyke stopped shooting.

Van Dyke's lawyer Daniel Herbert said his client would prevail in court.

"This is a case that can't be tried in the streets, it can't be tried in the media, and it can't be tried on Facebook."

Van Dyke, who wore a brown sweatshirt and faded blue jeans as he stood with his hands behind his back in court, has been on administrative duty while state and federal prosecutors investigated the shooting. He has said through his lawyer and the police union that the shooting was justified because he felt under threat from McDonald.

It has been decades since a Chicago police officer was indicted for fatally shooting someone while on duty, Chicago media reported.

Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, at a graduation ceremony for police cadets, told reporters in reference to potential protests: "We're going to facilitate and protect people's First Amendment rights to free speech, and we're going to be intolerant of criminal behavior."

The altercation between McDonald and police officers on Chicago's southwest side began with a call that a knife-wielding man was trying to break into a trucking yard. Chicago police have said McDonald threatened them with a knife and slashed at the tires and windshield of a patrol car. McDonald ignored a warning to drop the knife, officials said.

The video shows him moving away from police at the time he was shot, said a lawyer for McDonald's mother, who has seen the footage. The police department has said all 16 shots were fired by one officer.

Chicago, the third-largest city in the United States, has a population of 2.7 million, roughly one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic. Over the past seven years, the city's police have shot and wounded or killed an average of 50 people a year, 80 percent of them black.

The police union opposes the release of the video.

"We're concerned about the officer's safety. We're concerned about his family," Dean Angelo, president of the Chicago Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, told reporters outside the courtroom. "We're standing by officer Van Dyke in the performance of his duty at this stage."

The city has already paid McDonald's family a $5 million civil settlement even though they did not file a lawsuit.

(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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