CHICAGO – On April 13, 2015, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois announced a joint federal and state investigation following the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. On November 24, 2015, the Office announced that the investigation is active and keep going. The office conducted a thorough and independent investigation with the assistance of its federal, state and local investigative partners, including the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Chicago Independent Police Review Authority and its successor, the Civil Office of Police Liability.
In November 2015, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, in consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, continued murder charges against former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in Cook County District Court. Experienced and independent prosecutors led the state prosecution, which led to Mr. Van Dyke’s historical convictions for second-degree murder and sixteen charges of aggravating circumstances with a firearm. On January 18, 2019, Mr. Van Dyke was sentenced to 81 months in prison.
Today, John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is not pursuing a successive prosecution of Mr. Van Dyke will not continue on federal criminal charges. The decision not to pursue a federal prosecution is in line with the Department of Justice’s policy and was taken in consultation with Mr. McDonald’s family. U.S. Attorney Lausch has met on several occasions over the past three years, including recently, with a representative of Mr. McDonald’s family spoke to discuss the factors the Department of Justice is considering when deciding to bring a second prosecution. The family has agreed not to pursue a second prosecution, and the Office respects their position.
While much of the evidence presented by Mr. Van Dyke’s state hearing was presented, developed through a joint federal and state investigation, a federal hearing would not be a retrial of the state case. There is no general homicide charge under federal law that would apply. Federal prosecutors will have to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Van Dyke intentionally Mr. McDonald deprived of a constitutional right. To do so, prosecutors will not only have to prove that Mr. Van Dyke acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something that the law prohibits, but also that his actions were not the result of error, fear, negligence or bad judgment. It requires federal prosecutors to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Van Dyke thought when he used lethal force, and that he knew such violence was excessive. The federal law provides a very high standard – stricter than the state charges against which Mr. Van Dyke was convicted.
Even if a federal trial were to result in a conviction, the federal judge imposing the sentence would be required to uphold the 81-month state sentence previously imposed, as well as other relevant factors, including the same aggravating and mitigating factors imposed during Mr. state court sentencing; the fact that Mr. Van Dyke served his state prison sentence with conduct that entitled him under state law to be released early; and the fact that Mr Van Dyke is no longer a police officer and will never be again. Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution will reduce the important results already achieved.
In addition to the conviction and imprisonment of Mr. Van Dyke, the assassination resulted in an extensive investigation by the Chicago Police Department’s Department of Justice, the results of which were largely incorporated into a federal consent decision requiring the Chicago Police Department to make hundreds of meaningful police reform measures.
The public should not draw conclusions about how the Office is likely to analyze incidents of alleged crimes by law enforcement in the future. The Department of Justice remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive violence by law enforcement and will continue to devote the necessary resources to ensuring that credible allegations of civil rights violations are thoroughly investigated.