Chicago Officer Who Shot Laquan McDonald Was On Payroll For 400 Days After Incident

November 25th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Dash cam footage showing all 16 shots being fired into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald's body was released by Chicago police on Tuesday. Tension over the video's release has eased—but some questions still hang in the air about the former officer charged with McDonald's murder.

For 10 months between the time Jason Van Dyke was filmed shooting McDonald and the release of the footage in question, the officer remained on the Chicago Police Department's payroll.

"400 days? Really, Alvarez? Really, McCarthy? Really, Rahm?," Eric Zorn asked in the Chicago Tribune, posing the question to state attorney Anita Alvarez, Police Superintendent Gary McCarthy, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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BREAKING: Here's the video of Laquan McDonald's shooting death that the City of Chicago didn't want you to see. (WARNING: Graphic content).Disturbing details here: http://bit.ly/1NO3Yl0

Posted by ATTN: on Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So why did former officer Jason Van Dyke remain on paid desk duty until he was charged with the murder of McDonald, the same day the footage of the shooting was released? As some have pointed out, it's unclear how long Van Dyke might have remained on the city's payroll had Brandon Smith, a freelance journalist, not filed a freedom-of-information request for the footage to be released. (Smith, curiously, was denied entry to Tuesday evening's press conference around the video's release.)

The case received national media attention last week, when Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled in Smith's favor, ordering the video's release by November 25.


Related: Chicago Police Release Video of Laquan McDonald's Death

Questions swirled around the delayed administrative action over the incident given the scene captured in the video, which officials viewed months prior. Even accounting for bureaucratic overlap—the Independent Police Review Authority, the Cook County state's attorney's office, and the FBI all investigated the case—the footage doesn't necessarily explain what filled those 400 days. It took city officials less than half the amount of time to reach a $5 million settlement with McDonald's family before even seeing the footage.

Zorn writes in the Tribune:

Day by day, week by week, month by month, what happened here? Who was pursuing justice and the truth and what were they doing? Who were they talking to? With whom were they meeting? What were they trying to figure out for 400 days?

Other Chicago writers were more pointed, calling the lack of administrative action against Van Dyke part of a drawn-out web of delay tactics and fabrications surrounding the incident. The Chicago Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell writes:

[T]here was nothing on the tape that would shed any light on why agencies charged with holding sworn police officers accountable took a whole year to figure out that McDonald was murdered. It was right there in black and white. Though Van Dyke was stripped of his police powers, he has been allowed to go to his job every day as if McDonald's killing was just an unfortunate incident.

Van Dyke's tenure working desk duty might be explained by administrative procedures, including union contracts. According to the Tribune, contractual provisions keep the city from identifying officers who aren't convicted of a crime, or have not had their cases ruled on by the police board.

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Regardless of the reason, it's easy to understand why many Chicagoans are wondering why their tax money paid McDonald's salary for more than a year after the horrific incident took place.

Early on Tuesday morning, Van Dyke turned himself in to the state's attorney's investigators, and was placed in a one-person cell, the Tribune reported.