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Chicago Police Officer Charged With First Degree Murder In Death Of Black Teen


In Chicago, police are expected to shortly release a dash cam video of a police shooting that resulted in the death of a black teenager. Earlier today, a white police officer was charged with first-degree murder for killing Laquan McDonald. The city is preparing for what could be big protests in the video described as graphic by those who've seen it is released. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Less than six seconds - that's what prosecutors say elapsed from the time officer Jason Van Dyke got out of his car and when he began firing shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke and his partner had arrived to back up other officers who were following the erratically behaving teenager as he was holding a three-inch folding knife while walking in the middle of a busy Chicago thoroughfare.

Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez says dashboard camera video of the shooting shows officer Van Dyke aiming his weapon as Laquan McDonald is walking away from the officers and while, she says, he posed no threat.


ANITA ALVAREZ: The officer then opened fire on Laquan, whose arm jerks. His body spins around, and he falls to the ground.

SCHAPER: Alvarez says the evidence shows Officer Van Dyke paused briefly then continued to fire while the 17-year-old lay wounded on the ground, firing 16 shots in all, killing McDonald.


ALVAREZ: It is my determination that this defendant's actions of shooting Laquan McDonald when he did not pose an immediate threat of great bodily harm or death were not justified, and they were not a proper use of deadly force by this police officer.

SCHAPER: Alvarez denies she was under political pressure to release the video now because of recent intense scrutiny of the case, and she defends the length of the year-long investigation, saying it is a complex case, and the investigation was done in coordination with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office. The video of the incident, she warns, is violent, graphic and chilling.

ALVAREZ: To watch a 17-year-old young man die in such a violent manner is deeply disturbing, and I have absolutely no doubt that this video will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.

SCHAPER: Van Dyke's defense lawyer says the 37-year-old officer should be afforded the same presumption of innocence given anyone charged with a crime. Attorney Dan Herbert worries the dashboard camera video of the shooting won't give the public the full picture of exactly what happened.


DAN HERBERT: The judgment made by individuals that view this tape from the comfort of their living room on their sofa - it's not the same standard as the perspective for my client.

SCHAPER: Herbert says the video will make it difficult for his client to get a fair trial, and he's concerned for officer Van Dyke's safety behind bars and for the safety of his family. Chicago police are preparing for possibility of huge protests once the video goes public.

On Monday, Mayor Emanuel asked a group of ministers and community leaders for their help keeping any protests from turning violent. Pastor Corey Brooks says he and the others will do what they can, but...

COREY BROOKS: I can only imagine what some young black guy on the South Sides and the West Side of Chicago who's been frustrated and angry about his economic situation, frustrated and angry about his educational situation, frustrated and angry about his living conditions - I can only imagine how he's going to feel when he sees another young man who looks like him get shot down and basically murdered.

SCHAPER: Officer Jason Van Dyke is being held without bond in the Cook County Jail. He appears in court again Monday. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.