Decision to charge Officer Jason Van Dyke timed to release of Laquan McDonald video

Chicago police officials released the long-sought video of officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year old Laquan McDonald to death last year, hours after Van Dyke was ordered held without bond at least until Monday on first degree murder charges.

Details of what happened in the incident had remained murky for more than a year. The city had resisted requests for the video from multiple news outlets and activists, maintaining that the video was not subject to release because of an ongoing criminal investigation.

But last week Cook County Associate Judge Frank Valderamma ruled that the Chicago Police Department was improperly withholding the video from the public, improperly relying on an exemption for law enforcement purposes, and ordered its release.

Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.


Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said the judge’s ruling pushed up her decision to charge Van Dyke . “I felt compelled in the interest of public safety to announce these state charges today,” the Chicago Tribune quoted her as saying.

The video had been sent to Alvarez’ office within days of the incident last October, and was also provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The two agencies undertook a joint investigation, interviewing witnesses last winter. A federal grand jury remains empaneled in the case.

Laquan McDonald autopsy

The autopsy of Laquan McDonald.

Alvarez was quoted as saying Tuesday that she would have preferred to wait to announce charges at the end of the federal investigation.

The city paid McDonald’s family $5 million in April even before a lawsuit was filed that might have exposed details.

“The investigation took 13 months and showed no signs of concluding until the video was forced out,” said Brandon Smith, the freelance reporter who sued the city and won the release of the video. “And that’s with a video showing the whole thing.”