Chicago police officer who shot black teen sentenced to nearly 7 years

Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke, left, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for the 2014 shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald. (Chicago Tribune via AP)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Chicago police officer who shot black teen sentenced to nearly 7 years

  • Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet fired at Laquan McDonald
  • Van Dyke’s relatives tried to defend and humanize him, saying he’s a good father and not racist

CHICAGO: The white Chicago officer who gunned down a black teenager in 2014 was sentenced Friday to nearly seven years in prison, ending an explosive case that arose from one of the nation’s most graphic dashcam videos and added fuel to debates about race and policing and law enforcement’s “code of silence.”
Jason Van Dyke was convicted last year of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each bullet fired at Laquan McDonald. Attorneys on both sides agreed that if he behaves in prison, the 40-year-old could be released in less than three and a half years.
McDonald’s family lamented that the penalty was too light. His great uncle said the sentence reduced Laquan McDonald’s life to that of “a second-class citizen” and “suggests to us that there are no laws on the books for a black man that a white man is bound to honor.”
Moments earlier, Van Dyke acknowledged the teen’s death, telling the judge that “as a God-fearing man and father, I will have to live with this the rest of my life.”
The sentence was less than half of the penalty that had been sought by prosecutors, who asked for 18 to 20 years. But it went far beyond the request of defense attorneys, who argued that Van Dyke could be released on probation. The prison term was also a fraction of what Van Dyke could have faced had he been convicted of first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory minimum of 45 years in prison.
Judges typically rebuke defendants during sentencings, even for much lesser crimes, and they often explain why they imposed the sentence they did. But Judge Vincent Gaughan did neither in his brief comments from the bench.
Friday’s testimony came a day after a different judge acquitted three officers accused of lying about the shooting to protect Van Dyke, who was the first Chicago officer found guilty in an on-duty shooting in a half century and probably the first ever in the shooting of an African-American.
The lead defense attorney, Dan Herbert, said Van Dyke “truly felt great” after learning his sentence. “He was happy about the prospect of life ahead of him” and someday being reunited with his wife and two daughters.
The prosecutor who oversaw the case said he could live with the sentence.
“Our goal was to find the truth, present the truth and ask for justice. ... It was not revenge,” special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said.
The judge’s decision to deem the second-degree murder conviction the most serious crime — siding with the defense on that question — may also have spared Van Dyke a far longer term behind bars.
Had Gaughan sentenced Van Dyke on the 16 counts of aggravated battery, as prosecutors asked him to do, he could have faced decades in prison. Each aggravated battery count carried a mandatory minimum of six years, and the judge could have ordered those sentences to be served one after the other.
After the judge’s announcement, Van Dyke’s older daughter began crying and said “I want him home.”
The case triggered large street demonstrations when the video emerged, and authorities prepared for potential unrest in October, when the verdict came out. But there were no sign of protests following the sentence.
Activist William Calloway called the sentence “a slap in the face to us and a slap on the wrist” for Van Dyke.
The issue of race loomed over the case for more than four years, although it was rarely raised at trial. One of the only instances was during opening statements, when the special prosecutor told jurors that Van Dyke saw “a black boy walking down the street” who had “the audacity to ignore the police.”
On Friday, several black motorists testified that the officer used a racial slur and excessive force during traffic stops in the years before the shooting.
One of those witnesses, Vidale Joy, said Van Dyke used the slur after pulling him over in 2005 and at one point put a gun to Joy’s head. He said Van Dyke “looked infuriated” and seemed “out of his mind.” Under cross examination, Joy acknowledged that he did not allege Van Dyke used a slur in his first accounts of the stop.
Another witness, Ed Nance, struggled to maintain his composure as he looked across the room to identify Van Dyke. Testifying about a 2007 traffic stop, he said the officer cursed and slammed him on the car’s hood, grabbed him by the arms and pulled him to the squad car.
Van Dyke’s relatives tried to defend and humanize him, saying he’s a good father and not racist.
His wife said her biggest fear was that somebody would kill her husband in prison “for something he did as a police officer, something he was trained to do.”
She looked up over her shoulder and addressed the judge directly: “His life is over. Please, please. He has paid the price already ... I beg for the least amount of time.”
On Thursday, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson cleared former officer Joseph Walsh, former detective David March and officer Thomas Gaffney on charges of obstruction of justice, official misconduct and conspiracy.
Stephenson accepted the argument that jurors in the Van Dyke case rejected: that the video that sparked protests and a federal investigation of the police force was just one perspective of the events that unfolded on the South Side.
The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation between Van Dyke and the teen armed with a small knife. She found no indication the officers tried to hide evidence or made little effort to talk to witnesses. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
The video showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police vehicle and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street. On the footage, the teen is seen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots. Bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.
Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.
City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 — 13 months after the shooting — and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.
The case cost Van Dyke and the police superintendent their jobs and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.
The accusations triggered a federal investigation of the police department that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated people’s rights, particularly minorities.


Genius or joker? British PM favorite Johnson set to face the world

Updated 27 June 2019
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Genius or joker? British PM favorite Johnson set to face the world

  • The 55-year-old, famous for his messy mop of blond hair and dishevelled style, has turned upper-class English eccentricity into a political asset in Britain
  • He is a natural introvert, two sources close to his team told Reuters, adding that his shyness is often construed as arrogance, and he needs a lot of time alone before speaking in public

LONDON: Loose cannon or influential statesman — what kind of British prime minister would Boris Johnson make on the world stage? Judging by his time as foreign secretary, possibly both.
When Johnson was given the foreign job in 2016, after Britain voted to leave the EU, he was viewed as an unlikely choice by politicians and public alike given his tendency to court controversy with gaffes, oddball jokes and off-the-cuff remarks.
The early days seemed to confirm the worst fears of those who saw the Conservative lawmaker as an unsuitable diplomat, at a critical time when Britain needed to forge new political and commercial ties with a slew of countries.
What should have been a routine conference in Italy, the “Mediterranean Dialogues Forum” aimed at building relations with leading envoys from the West and Middle East, instead turned into something of a diplomatic incident.
The backlash was swift from Prime Minister Theresa May, who said his comments did not reflect “actual policy,” dishing out what a government source described as a shocking and very public “cuffing” for a senior minister.
Now May is stepping down over her failure to extract Britain from the European Union. Johnson, a leader of the Brexit campaign, is the overwhelming favorite to become leader of the governing Conservative Party next month, which would also make him prime minister.
The 55-year-old, famous for his messy mop of blond hair and dishevelled style, has turned upper-class English eccentricity into a political asset in Britain and perfected a personal brand based on a comic talent and a seemingly shambolic style.
His critics say this robs him of statesman-like gravity, arguing that it’s difficult to take seriously a man who once said the chance of him becoming prime minister was about as likely as finding Elvis on Mars.
However two of Johnson’s aides and another veteran Conservative who knows him said that he was often misunderstood and that beneath his blustering, self-confident demeanour was a shy, serious man focused on his goals.
He is a natural introvert, two sources close to his team told Reuters, adding that his shyness is often construed as arrogance, and he needs a lot of time alone before speaking in public — distinctively at odds with the public perception of Johnson being a natural, unscripted showman.
“Before speaking to a room, he needs to corral himself,” said the veteran Conservative. “It’s not a performance but it saps him of energy. He just needs to summon up the energy.”
One aide, a government source and an EU diplomat also pointed to an influential, but behind-the-scenes, role he played as foreign secretary following the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, by a nerve agent last year in England.
One government source said Johnson had put his “shoulder to the wheel” to win international support for sanctions and Russian diplomatic expulsions from a long list of countries.
A senior European diplomat agreed that he was “professional” in this role, which attracted little publicity.
“People in Brussels didn’t take Boris seriously back then,” the diplomat said. “In March last year, he showed he could drop the clownish personality, he showed a will to discuss the Skripal affair in the most serious terms and to make the point to his counterparts that they needed to back Britain on this.”
Irreverent insurgent
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to give his full name, is something of an enigma at home and abroad.
He is man of apparent contradictions, with his privileged background and bursts of Latin phrases seemingly at odds with his popular appeal when elected mayor of left-leaning London in 2008 with the biggest personal mandate in British history.
He is one of those rare politicians to be most commonly referred to by most members of the public by their first names.
Like US President Donald Trump, he can emerge unscathed from gaffes and scandals that would sink any normal public figure. Other offensive remarks he has made include calling black people “piccaninnies” and saying Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes.”
“Boris is a flawed character and flaky but most politicians are underneath,” said Ed Costelloe, chair of the campaign group Conservative Grassroots. “It would be lovely to have Mother Theresa as prime minister, but it ain’t going to happen.”
In fact, some people love him all the more because he appears to be an irreverent insurgent who defies the media training of polished politics, shooting from the hip with comic timing and flair. Others seem to give him more leeway.
The biggest task ahead, should he become leader, would be withdrawal talks with the EU, which has said it will not reopen the Withdrawal Agreement agreed by May in November — a deal that was repeatedly rejected by British lawmakers and led to the original Brexit date of March 29 being pushed back.
Johnson has offended many in Europe, with remarks such as suggesting Italy should help with a Brexit deal to avoid losing out on sales of Prosecco sparkling wine and declaring it was “bollocks” to say that freedom of movement was a founding principle of the EU.
Yet the British government sources said his ability to wrestle changes to the deal from Brussels, as he has demanded, would come down to whether he can carry the support of British lawmakers and end a stalemate that has incensed EU officials.
“His success depends on whether the EU believes he can actually command a majority,” said one of the sources. “The thing about the PM was that they just didn’t believe she could ever get it through so were never going to give any more ground. If they think Boris can get it through, they might shift.”
It’s all about Brexit
Johnson has cast himself as the only leadership candidate who can deliver Brexit on the next deadline of Oct. 31 — with or without a deal.
The sources close his team said he was approaching his bid in a similarly quiet way to the Skripal manoeuvring. He has built support through behind-the-scenes talks with lawmakers rather through media appearances and speeches — and had been conspicuously absent from public sight until this week.
He has been listening closely to the counsel of his closest aides and veteran election strategist Lynton Crosby, who is not officially on the payroll but is offering advice.
Johnson’s strategy of steering clear of the airwaves and avoiding public head-to-head debates has been carefully thought through as part of a leadership campaign in the works for months in anticipation of May’s announcement five weeks ago that she would step down, said the sources.
The plan appeared uncharacteristic for a man who made his name by being highly visible, including appearing in comedy shows and one of Britain’s best-loved TV soap operas.
He even drew accusations from his only remaining leadership rival, Jeremy Hunt, of being a coward for avoiding head-to-head debates. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd said she found Johnson’s decision to ignore live TV debates “very odd.”
The strategy was partly borne of the fact that Johnson is widely viewed as a near-certainty to win the party leadership, and become prime minister, barring an unforeseen catastrophe.
Foreign Secretary Hunt voted to stay in the European Union in 2016, which is likely to count against him among the around 160,000 party members who will choose the winner and are mainly pro-Brexit.
However Johnson was forced to veer from the gameplan and break cover this week when he was faced with exactly the kind of negative publicity his team had hoped to avoid, after a neighbor called the police upon hearing Johnson and his girlfriend shouting and smashing plates.
Police found no cause for action, but the story dominated the front pages of Britain’s newspapers, with some questioning Johnson’s character and past — he is divorcing his second wife and has had several reported affairs.
Following the furor, he changed gear and launched into a media blitz on TV and radio.
Nonetheless, few in his party believe anything can seriously impede his cruise to 10 Downing Street.
“Boris is still well ahead with the membership who will ultimately decide who the next prime minister is,” said Conservative lawmaker and Johnson supporter Andrew Bridgen.
“The overriding issue is Brexit and unfortunately Jeremy voted remain.”