Five Chicago officers face firing for killing black teen

Chicago's police chief recommended to the Chicago Police Board that officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, be fired, along with another four officers who lied for Van Dyke.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Demonstrators hold signs bearing the name of Laquan McDonald during protests in Chicago, Illinois November 24, 2015 reacting to the release of a police video of the 2014 shooting of black teen, Laquan McDonald, by policeman Jason Van Dyke. Image:Reuters.

The chief of Chicago's police department recommended on Tuesday that five officers be fired over their role in the 2014 shooting death of a black teenager, an incident that heaped national scrutiny on the nation's second largest police force.

Superintendent Eddie Johnson recommended to the Chicago Police Board that officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot Laquan McDonald 16 times, be fired, along with another four officers.

Picture of Laquan McDonald, black teen who was fatally shot by a Chicago police officer in 2014. Image: Family handout.

The shooting made headlines across the country and sparked protests after the release of a dashboard video more than a year after the incident.

The video shows the officer continuing to fire after McDonald, 17, had fallen to the ground.

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke sits in the courtroom during a hearing in his shooting case of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois March 23, 2016. Image: Reuters.

It also comes amid a string of high-profile killings of black men by police in various US cities in the past two years which have renewed a national debate about racial discrimination in the American criminal justice system and given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Johnson's recommendation marks the start of formal proceedings in the officers' firing.

The Police Board, whose nine members are appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, must consider it and then make the decision regarding the firing of the officers.

Van Dyke is facing charges of first-degree murder and is on unpaid leave.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Van Dyke stated in reports that he fired his weapon in fear for his life when McDonald came towards him with a knife, according to the Chicago Tribune

On the video, however, Van Dyke can be seen jumping from his car and opening fire within seconds as McDonald appears to walk away from him. 

Sergeant Stephen Franko, and officers Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian and Ricardo Viramontes, are named along with Van Dyke.

According to charges released on Tuesday, all allegedly made false or inaccurate statements about the circumstances surrounding McDonald's death.

Black Lives Matter protest. Image: Reuters.

"The Superintendent has recommended that each of the five officers be discharged from the Chicago Police Department," a statement from the Police Board said.

"The public is reminded that the filing of charges is not evidence of guilt."  

An initial status hearing for the cases is scheduled for September 19.

The police reports on the October 2014 shooting conflicted with video footage of the incident, sparking accusations that Van Dyke's fellow officers were trying to cover up an unjustified shooting.

Screenshots of footage showing the moments leading up to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald. Image: Reuters.

Emanuel fired police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in the wake of the video release, and thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chicago over McDonald's death and the subsequent handling of the case.

Initially Johnson recommended the firing of 10 officers, a number that dropped to seven because some officers retired, among other reasons, according to the Chicago Tribune. It was unclear why that number dropped to five officers.

The video below shows an excerpt of footage of Chicago police officer Van Dyke fatally shooting McDonald.

Viewer discretion is advised:

Emanuel's administration worked for months to avoid releasing the video of McDonald's shooting, but a judge forced its release last November, according to the Chicago Tribune. 

On Tuesday, Emanuel unveiled a proposed Police Accountability Ordinance to overhaul current oversight in a move to ensure "investigations of officers are independent, fair, timely and transparent." Chicago City Council will vote on it on September 29.

TRTWorld and agencies