Chicago officer charged with first degree murder in Laquan McDonald’s death

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CHICAGO (November 24, 2015) — The Chicago police officer who fatally shot black teenager Laquan McDonald has been charged with first-degree murder, a major turn that comes as many in the city braced for potential unrest.

The Cook County state’s attorney announced that the officer, Jason Van Dyke, turned himself in to authorities Tuesday morning.

At an afternoon hearing, a judge temporarily denied bond for Van Dyke. Judge Donald Panarese Jr. plans to make a final determination on Van Dyke’s bond during another court hearing set for Monday, so that the jurist can have time to view a video that allegedly shows the officer shooting McDonald 16 times.

Until Tuesday, Van Dyke still worked for the police department in a “limited duty position” as investigators probed the October 20, 2014, shooting death of McDonald.

Authorities say McDonald, 17, was armed with a 4-inch knife when Van Dyke, who is white, confronted him. The teen did not comply with “numerous police orders to drop the knife,” the officer’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, told the Chicago Tribune, when Van Dyke opened fire.

“He’s scared to death, but more than himself he’s scared for his wife, his two kids,” Herbert said of his client before charges were filed. “He knows in his heart of hearts that his actions were appropriate.”

Activists, however, have blasted Van Dyke. And Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined them last week.

“Police officers are entrusted to uphold the law, and to provide safety to our residents,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “In this case, unfortunately, it appears an officer violated that trust at every level.”

Pastor: ‘Many … feel betrayed’

The announcement of charges comes one day before the city’s deadline to release video showing McDonald’s death. Until Thursday, officials had resisted such a release, fearing it could jeopardize investigations. Others said it could spur major protests in reaction to footage that even Van Dyke’s attorney admits is “graphic, disturbing and difficult to watch.”

Emanuel met Monday with activists and community leaders to discuss the coming release and what it might mean for the city. The Rev. Ira Acree said the mayor urged him and others to use their influence to ensure that any subsequent demonstrations are peaceful.

“Many in the community feel betrayed,” Acree, a pastor at the Greater St. John Bible Church, told reporters after the meeting. “Protests are imminent.”

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has said the video “could tear Chicago apart.”

“Chicago is on the tipping point,” the Rev. Roosevelt Watkins said, according to CNN affiliate WLS-TV. “We could be just like Ferguson.”

Watkins was referring to Ferguson, Missouri, which imploded in protests and riots after a white police officer shot to death unarmed black teen Michael Brown in 2014. Unrest in the St. Louis suburb lasted for months afterward.

City reaches settlement with family

But what happened in Chicago differs from Ferguson in a few key ways.

McDonald was armed, unlike Brown.

Van Dyke confronted him knowing that McDonald had “punctured a tire on a police car,” according to his attorney.

Another major difference is that McDonald’s final moments were captured on video.

The city agreed in April to pay $5 million to McDonald’s family, though the family had not filed a lawsuit.

McDonald was a ward of the state at the time of his death, according to a spokeswoman with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. A few days before he was killed, DCFS gave him over to the custody of a relative, she said.

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