By Steve Schmadeke
Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke has been formally indicted on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct for fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Tribune has learned.
The case has created a firestorm after the release last month of a dash-cam video showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times within seconds of stepping out of his police car as the black teen moved away from the white officer.
Hours before city officials made the video public Nov. 24 on orders of a Cook County judge, prosecutors charged Van Dyke with a single count of first-degree murder. State's Attorney Anita Alvarez acknowledged that she made the announcement earlier than planned out of concern for "public safety."
Court records show that Alvarez's office obtained the seven-count indictment from a grand jury on Tuesday. An FBI agent testified before the grand jury, according to the records.
Van Dyke, who was freed on $1.5 million bail on Nov. 30 after spending six nights in Cook County Jail, is scheduled to return Friday to the Leighton Criminal Court Building. The presiding judge will later randomly assign a judge to preside over the high-profile case. Van Dyke is expected to plead not guilty then before that judge.
His lawyer could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening, but he has previously said Van Dyke feared for his life when he shot McDonald on a Southwest Side street in October 2014.
The indictment against Van Dyke, 37, marked the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years.
In charging the officer with six counts of first-degree murder, the indictment alleged that Van Dyke acted "without lawful justification" in shooting McDonald.
It is common for prosecutors to charge multiple counts for a single killing under different legal theories. In this case, Van Dyke was indicted for intentionally shooting and killing McDonald as well as shooting the teen knowing that his acts "created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm."
Van Dyke was also charged with official misconduct for committing a murder while acting in his official capacity as a Chicago police officer.
The fallout over the disturbing video of the shooting _ and that it took 13 months for its release and the officer to be charged _ has galvanized Chicago and created the most severe crisis for Mayor Rahm Emanuel in his time in office. Weeks of protests have followed, with demands that Emanuel and Alvarez, in the midst of a tough re-election fight, step down. The mayor forced out police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and the head of the police oversight agency, and the U.S. Justice Department opened a wide-ranging investigation of Police Department practices.
At bond court last month, prosecutors said Van Dyke opened fire six seconds after exiting his squad car as McDonald was holding a knife with a 3-inch blade and walking in the middle of 41st Street and Pulaski Road shortly before 10 p.m. Oct. 20, 2014.
As McDonald walked away from him, Van Dyke took at least one step forward and fired 16 rounds at McDonald in about 14 seconds and was reloading when another officer told him to hold his fire, prosecutors said.
At the time of the shooting, a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing rank-and-file officers, said McDonald had lunged at Van Dyke.
Hundreds of pages of Chicago police reports released earlier this month by the city showed that Van Dyke and at least five other officers claimed that McDonald moved or turned threateningly toward officers, even though the video of the shooting showed McDonald walking away.
Authorities said McDonald had PCP in his system at the time of his death.
The Police Department suspended Van Dyke without pay after he was charged last month. Van Dyke had been placed on paid desk duty after the shooting last year.
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