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by Peter Moskos

October 5, 2018

Van Dyke Guilty in Chicago

Former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. This isn't surprising. I think Van Dyke was found guilty because, get this, he was.

I wrote this in 2015:
The video is out. Finally. After long attempts to sweep it under the rug failed.
It's a bad shooting.... The officer who killed McDonald fits the pattern of bad cops: high activity, drug work, too many complaints. Sure, all the complaints weren't justified, but some of them were. And undoubtedly he did a lot of bad shit that people didn't file formal complaints about.
Now of course I know that in a court of law anything Van Dyke did in the past is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence is this criminal case. Whether he was a "bad" cop or not is irrelevant and inadmissible in a court of law. But I'm mentioning it because I'm not a court of law.

And second-degree murder seems correct. It meets these conditions:
Intended to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual (or knew that the act would do so); or

Knows that the acts create a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm to the individual.
Combined with this mitigating factor:
At the time of the killing, he/she believed that the killing would have been lawfully justified but the belief was unreasonable.
Van Dyke had options not limited to A) doing nothing, B) not shooting, and C) not continuing to pump rounds into McDonald after McDonald was down. As judged by this former police officer, I say Van Dyke was not reasonable.


Otis Blue said...

This was pretty clearly an illegal action on the part of Van Dyke. No one else shot and then he shoots 17 times? I always felt that had Van Dyke shot a single volley of 3-6 rounds, this would not have gone to trial, but he shot 17 times, and that says something about his mindset at the time. It says that his mindset was wrong.

The concern I have is the over-reach of the prosecutor and talking heads. A paraphrase recounted on Second City Cop claimed the prosecutor questioned Van Dyke during trial that: this all could have been avoided had you stayed in your car.

You've spent significant time on this topic over the last few years, but there it is writ large: de-policing as expectation. Obviously no one reasonable wants cops ignoring knife-wielding high-as-a-kite juvenile delinquents running about their neighborhood committing acts of vandalism and mayhem. We don't wants cops shooting them unnecessarily, but honestly, taking crazy drugs and running around stabbing inanimate objects should reasonably be expected to shorten ones life expectancy on average.

I think the issue cops have with this conviction is the politics behind it. The fact that the shooting was signed off on as justified until it wasn't... and the judge refused to allow the defense to question those who did sign off on it. It was a criminal shoot AND a political ram-rodding. I believe that when cops do bad, they need to be held accountable, but when one of the guys who signs off on a shooting that later turns out to be Murder 2 still has the job of police commissioner... yeah, cops have a reason to be upset.

JDB said...

I think something else no reasonable person wants are cops emptying magazines on people that are walking away, then destroying evidence and closing ranks. Whether there was a moment that it was justified in someone's mind or not, what happened afterwards was a travesty.

This is the thing I have so much trouble understanding. If you believe that when cops do bad they should be held accountable, then why aren't you raging about the handling of the investigation? Bad cops make all cops look dirty. Good cops looking the other way when one of their own does something questionable are essentially bad cops to the rest of us. It makes the few bad apples argument pretty weak.

Peter Moskos said...

What happened afterwards was a travesty. I never said otherwise. I And it went up to the mayor. I'm not certain how I'm supposed to rage. I wrote about it.

Also, in the end, it was investigated, a cop was actually charged and he was convicted of murder. So at some level, in the end, the system worked.

JDB said...

I'm sorry, my comment was directed at Otis Blue. I should have made that clear in my response.

He's saying something I've seen often. When an officer is held accountable for some wrong doing. Essentially that this will lead to de-policing, that police feel hung out to dry and unsupported by their local government, their management, and the people they serve.

I will suggest that your recent comment about the lack of a blue wall doesn't exactly ring true in this case. Sure, there are times when CYA takes priority over brotherhood but, that only seems to be the case when the feces have started to hit the fan. Every time a cop acts like an ass, abuses their authority, or turns a blind eye to another cop doing the same, it chips away at the legitimacy of all law enforcement. There are plenty of daily examples of this going on and members of the public trying to get traction on accountability. Look at @placardabuse on twitter to see how something as trivial as parking can't be dealt with professionally.

Otis Blue said...

@JDB, I agree with you (and stated several times in my comment) that this was a criminal action on the part of Van Dyke for which a conviction is appropriate. I even said the fact that he emptied his magazine proved to me he was wrong. I also agreed with you that the initial investigation was flawed. I did focus on higher ups in the cover-up being promoted rather than fired/charged and neglected to speak to the lower ranking officers making factually incorrect official statements that supported Van Dyke's flawed statements. This admittedly speaks to my biases as a current patrol officer.

I use the term "flawed statements" in lieu of "lies" because I have personally testified under oath using flawed statements regarding an officer involved shooting. I will skip most details, but summarize with I was standing directly next to an officer who shot a suspect. I later testified to (and still remember... often) hearing a volley of shots, then a pause, and then one shot. I didn't actually see the shooting because I was confronting a secondary threat at the time. The correct order of events is the opposite with a single shot being fired, then a pause, then a volley. I have watched the videos, heard the audio, and still remember it the reversed way. Did I lie under oath? Does the stress and adrenaline excuse my factually incorrect memories? These are the questions I always consider when analyzing another officer's statements about high stress incidents.

Obviously, being a cop is stressful and we all knew that coming into the job. (note: if one says this as an excuse to discount brain science regarding high stress encounters it should probably disqualify that person from commenting on such matters) This doesn't mean that cops should not be held accountable when their actions are so grossly wrong as they were with Van Dyke. I could have legally shot someone a couple of times each year I've been a cop, but have managed to not do so yet. Stress and fear is not an excuse. I don't know what the other officers saw when Van Dyke shot MacDonald. I don't know all the details of what they wrote or testified to. If they said things that aren't possibly true, then they should be treated accordingly. I just think it's possible for Van Dyke and to be telling the truth about his experience, AND have his actions still be criminal. Maybe the others lied outright. Maybe they convinced themselves of things they didn't see. Many have their own trials coming up, so I guess we'll find out, and as Peter wrote, the system did work... yes only because there was video. In my city however, it's the ACLU that is fighting agency-wide videos, not police, so take that for what you will.

I stand by my assertion, however, that suggesting officers should stay in their cars is not the correct way to critique Van Dyke's actions on that night. He had a multitude of options after getting out of his car that did not involve shooting at all and especially not emptying a magazine into MacDonald. The current narrative is plenty to convince cops that staying in their cars is the best way to police, despite the truths to which our experience speaks. The consequence of having a prosecutor make the statement, however, should be concerning for everyone who lives in this society.

JDB said...

Otis thanks, and I mean that. I'm glad you responded and made a reasoned argument.

Let me address your last comment first. I think the judge's admonition that had he should have stayed in his car, was more along the lines that the situation was under control before he got there, and he made mess of it. That doesn't suggest to me, that all officers should stay in their car. It suggests that arriving late and then claiming that you feared for you life is bogus.

I suppose if there are other officers who have nothing useful to bring to a situation that is already being dealt with, they could stay in their cars as well. If all an officer has to offer is swinging his/her baton, or escalating the situation, maybe find a different job.

That it became a political issue is not something that I can argue against. It should not have gotten to that point. If any, or all, of the other officers on the scene had stood tall and said that it was unacceptable behavior from a fellow officer, then there wouldn't have been a sign off. It can only blow up like this when everyone is willing to turn a blind eye to something terrible. If police would actually hold each other to the standards that they profess to live by, we wouldn't keep having this kind of problem. That policing is a boys club, that often acts more like a gang, is appalling.

I'm trying not to rant. I want to talk about these things with reasonable people, so that maybe we can all figure this out. I see Van Dyke and others play out in the news and it's mostly the same. Maybe one cop is eventually held to account, but it's very often a long shot. The response almost always sounds the same. Something like "this will keep us from doing our jobs," or "it's not safe to get out of the car," or "it was just that one bad cop."

I don't think most of us are asking to second guess every decision an officer makes, or really any of them. What we want is fair and professional law enforcement. That means to me, not letting coworkers get away with murder. Additionally, when a bad cop finally does get caught, it means not complaining about how it was someone else's fault.