Megan Crépeau, Jason Meisner and Shanzeh Ahmad Chicago Tribune
CHICAGO — Just after midnight Thursday, as winds blew whirlwinds of snow around a remote central Illinois prison, one of the state’s most high-profile prisoners walked out of jail under the guise of darkness.
Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke spent just over three years behind bars for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald, a shooting captured on police video that sent shockwaves neighborhood streets to the mayor’s office at City Hall.
The eyes of the world were on Van Dyke’s trial, almost every moment of which was broadcast live. But his time in prison was kept secret until the very end.
For years, prison officials refused to reveal where he was being held. And details of his departure weren’t released until more than 12 hours later, when a spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Corrections confirmed Van Dyke had been released from a minimum-security facility in Taylorville. at 12:15 a.m. Central Time.
The lack of information surrounding Van Dyke’s release from custody has added a new layer to a case that has sparked outrage from black activists and leaders who have denounced Van Dyke’s lenient sentence and called for new charges of civil rights against Van Dyke. Protesters including the Reverend Jesse Jackson and McDonald’s grandmother Tracie Hunter gathered near Federal Plaza downtown in a protest calling on Van Dyke to face federal charges.
While most of the protesters were outside, several were in the lobby of Dirksen’s US courthouse, and after a while US marshals appeared to escort them. Some were taken into custody; others, like Hunter, were not.
“It’s so terrible how the system and the laws (are)…it wasn’t a time served at all, period, and I want federal charges against this man,” she told reporters via the following. While Hunter and one of McDonald’s aunts joined the call for new charges, McDonald’s great-uncle told the Chicago Tribune they were not speaking on behalf of the majority of the family.
Elorm Blake, spokesperson for the US Marshals Service in Chicago, confirmed that nine people – five women and four men – were arrested on Thursday and charged with civil contempt for violating the Chief Justice’s order governing protests in Dirksen. . Those arrested were processed and appeared before a federal judge on Thursday evening, she said.
Among those arrested was Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago activist who has repeatedly sought federal charges against Van Dyke, a source said. Other names of those arrested as well as specific court information were not immediately released.
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition national field director Bishop Tavis Grant said it was “significant” that some activists visited the offices of U.S. Attorney John Lausch and delivered a letter to his staff calling on Van Dyke to face additional charges.
“It’s on Emmett Till’s mind, it’s on Trayvon Martin’s mind,” Grant said. “So many cases… go unsolved and leave this feeling of angst, anger and frustration in black and brown communities that our lives don’t matter.”
Protesters later descended from the sidewalk and marched towards Dearborn Street and others in the Loop chanting that more needed to be done in the case.
A Cook County jury convicted Van Dyke in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each shot he fired at McDonald, who walked away from officers holding a knife. It was a highly publicized case as dash cam footage of the 2014 shooting sparked widespread protests and political upheaval. Van Dyke became the first officer to be convicted of murder in an on-duty shooting in about half a century.
News of the former officer’s release spread last month and surprised many, even though he was expected to leave police custody in February 2022.
At sentencing, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan chose to convict Van Dyke of second-degree murder — not aggravated battery — meaning Van Dyke faced a range of lower penalties. And a procedural technicality gives inmates daily credit for good behavior on numerous felony convictions, including second-degree murder, meaning he only had to serve about half his sentence.
Since the January 2019 sentencing, Van Dyke has served time in a downstate prison, a federal detention center in Connecticut, and at least one undisclosed location under an interstate agreement where prisoners from high level may be kept out of publicly available inmate databases online.
For the past two years, the Illinois Department of Corrections has declined to say where Van Dyke is being held “for safety and security reasons.” But a two-page release order from the Prisoner Review Board, the government agency responsible for scheduling a prisoner’s supervised release program, said Van Dyke had been at the minimum-security prison at Taylorville Institution. .
Officials have offered no explanation why Van Dyke should enjoy so much secrecy when the locations of other high profile detainees – including other convicted police officers, terrorists and gang leaders – are routinely leaked in public databases across the country.
This includes Derek Chauvin, the white Minnesota police officer who was convicted last year of murdering black man George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, a case that sparked protests and unrest nationwide, including in Chicago. Although he is arguably the most high-profile jailed former law enforcement officer in the country, Chauvin’s location, booking photos and release information are readily available on the Department’s website. Minnesota Corrections.
And it’s unclear why Van Dyke was released in the middle of the night, or if less prominent inmates are given the same opportunity to walk out quietly.
No news cameras were stationed outside Taylorville Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. A handful of reporters showed up outside Van Dyke’s parents’ home in DuPage County later Thursday; all the blinds were drawn and no one answered when a Tribune reporter knocked on the door.
Van Dyke must now complete his mandatory supervised release, Illinois’ version of parole. The only requirement listed on the review board form was that he attend a cognitive behavioral therapy program, a common measure aimed at reducing recidivism.
Van Dyke’s release comes as black leaders, along with the two Democratic senators from Illinois, continue to pressure the US Department of Justice over a federal civil rights investigation into the McDonald’s murder. which ended quietly after Van Dyke was convicted in state court of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a gun. Van Dyke, who is white, was captured on police video shooting the black teenager 16 times as he walked away from police with a knife.
On Tuesday, NAACP National Chapter President sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland saying the lack of resolution in the federal case, coupled with Van Dyke’s impending release, was “clearly alarming” to the black community.
“We hope you find the matter alarming as well and join us in our call for the closure of this federal grand jury investigation,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson wrote. He also asked for Garland’s commitment to “move forward with appropriate and enforceable federal charges” based on the evidence.
A few hours later, the senses. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth wrote their own letter noting that state conviction does not preclude federal charges from being filed, citing recent cases against former Minneapolis officer Chauvin, who has been charged in both jurisdictions of the May Murder of George Floyd in 2020.
“We urge the Department of Justice to carefully and expeditiously complete its investigation,” the senators’ letter concludes.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the department had received the letters and “will review the information” but declined to comment further.
When asked on Tuesday whether she would support bringing federal charges against Van Dyke, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said she was unable to provide direction to federal prosecutors. But Van Dyke’s sentence was not appropriate given the gravity of the crime he committed, she said. If he had been convicted of aggravated assault, he would have received a much longer sentence and he would have had to serve more than half of it.
“I would suggest and hope and pray…that everyone with the power to ensure there is accountability for Laquan McDonald’s death do everything in their power to hold him accountable,” Foxx said, whose office did not handle Van Dyke’s prosecution.