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Chicago Police Officer Found Guilty Of 2nd-Degree Murder Of Laquan McDonald


In Chicago today - a stunning verdict for the police officer who shot and killed a black teenager. Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder. He shot Laquan McDonald 16 times. It was caught on camera and sparked an uproar in Chicago. It also triggered the Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the police department, finding a pattern of excessive force.

WBEZ's Shannon Heffernan has been reporting on the trial for months and joins us now. Hi, Shannon.


SHAPIRO: This guilty verdict is a huge deal for the city of Chicago. What is the reaction?

HEFFERNAN: Well, the activists I've been able to speak to so far have said that while they were hoping for a first-degree murder charge, they're satisfied with a second-degree murder charge. This is something we haven't seen happen in Chicago for decades, so I think for those activists, it's feeling like a moment of celebration. We've also heard from representatives for police, like the police union. They're of course unhappy with this verdict and concerned for what it will mean for policing going forward.

SHAPIRO: The convicted police officer Jason Van Dyke actually took the stand this week in his defense during this trial. What did he say?

HEFFERNAN: Well, he described Laquan McDonald as somebody to be afraid of. He described his face as frightening, described his eyes as blank. He said that the - that Laquan McDonald raised the knife up to his shoulder, which is not something you can see looking at the dash cam video of this incident. So the prosecutors really pushed him hard on why his version of events didn't match with the video.

SHAPIRO: What kind of an impact do you expect this verdict to have on the relationship between the Chicago Police Department and the African-American community?

HEFFERNAN: Well, I think that's hard to say because I think that the tensions here have been more - about more than just Laquan McDonald. You'll have to remember that in addition to this trial, there's another trial related to this shooting. There are three officers charged with conspiracy for exaggerating the threat that Laquan McDonald presented that night in their reports. And I think that there's this feeling that the shooting was a problem that the community feels but also the feeling that officers covered it up. So I think we'll be watching that closely, what happens in that trial and how the city reacts to that, too.

SHAPIRO: We have reported on so many police-involved shootings. And in so many cases, the officers are acquitted. This conviction is a rare exception. What do you think made it different?

HEFFERNAN: Well, I think the number of shots - 16 - made a big difference in this case. I also think the fact that there were multiple other officers on scene that night who encountered Laquan McDonald and chose not to shoot - I think that that was important to a lot of folks, a fact that they noticed.

SHAPIRO: That's WBEZ reporter Shannon Heffernan reporting on the trial and conviction of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, found guilty today of second-degree murder. Shannon, thanks so much.

HEFFERNAN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Heffernan