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Post Chicago Report: ex-Officer Jason Van Dyke Sentenced
Created by John Eipper on 01/20/19 4:39 AM

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Chicago Report: ex-Officer Jason Van Dyke Sentenced (David Duggan, USA, 01/20/19 4:39 am)

Chicagoans are trying rationalize two verdicts entered recently in the Circu[s] Court of C[r]ook County in the ongoing police brutality saga which has dominated local headlines for the last four years. The first was issued Thursday in the "blue wall conspiracy" case against three police officers for their reports that former Chicago Police Ofcr. Jason Van Dyke rationally believed he was threatened by knife-wielding LaQuan McDonald in a truck parking lot in the fall of 2014. After a "bench trial," in which the officers put their fate in the hands of one judge, they were found not guilty on all counts, including "official misconduct," sort of a catch-all when the prosecution can't make the top count of an indictment. The second was the nearly-seven year sentence given Friday to Van Dyke by a different judge in a different courtroom. And to continue the legal anomaly motif, I wanted to share with WAISers my own experience as a juror in a civil case tried in the downtown Richard J. Daley Center, named after Chicago's legendary "Boss" mayor whose son was the county's State's Attorney when many of the police practices at issue in the Van Dyke case were put in place.

For those who don't remember, Van Dyke pumped 16 bullets into the PCP-besotted McDonald after he failed to drop the knife--despite an order to do so--used to slash tires in that parking lot. The dash-cam video showed McDonald walking away; Van Dyke was off to the side, off-camera, and many of the bullets were fired when McDonald was already on the ground, but the knife still in his hand. He died at the scene. The sentencing hearing took the entire day as "community activists" read "victim impact statements" into the record as to what the shooting did to the family, demanding "justice for LaQuan." In the unsurprising absence of McDonald's father, a great uncle has played an outsized role in speaking for the family, but he made no mention of the $5 million settlement which the City paid without even a suit filed, and before the dash-cam video was released. I wonder how much of that $5 mil the father is getting. A noticeably thinner Van Dyke, dressed in his yellowish prison garb, gave a muffled reading of what appeared to be a handwritten statement, saying he has to "live with" this, but not quite expressing contrition. His wife, who must now raise her three children alone, said she prayed daily for LaQuan's family.

In the conspiracy case, the issue of course was the "conspiracy of silence" which police officers or other military organizations enforce to protect themselves from the public which employs them. This has been the oft-told tale since the days of David and Bathsheba, not to mention the fodder of Hollywood ("Serpico," "Prince of the City," "A Few Good Men," to name a few). Thirty-five years ago, I worked for the New York State Special Prosecutor's Office, investigating police corruption in the wake of the allegations of NYPD Ofcrs. Frank Serpico and David Dirk, and the findings of the Knapp Commission. Police did not willingly testify against each other, and you had to twist a lot of arms to get them to be truthful. Threatening termination and the loss of a pension was moderately successful.

Fast forward and the State's Attorney had to engage a special prosecutor for both the Van Dyke case and the conspiracy case, because the line assistants have to deal with the police officers to make their cases and don't want to queer their meal tickets. I know the special prosecutor in the conspiracy case, a former Assistant US Attorney who prosecuted the Gangster Disciples back in the mid-'90s, and I was representing a "Governor" and a "Regent" in separate narcotics conspiracy trials. It didn't end well for them, but for the prosecutor, he has had a second career as the managing partner of a large Chicago firm, a special investigator of sexual misconduct in the Lake Forest public elementary schools, and now a special prosecutor of police misconduct. I'm sure that F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose Daisy Buchanan was drawn loosely on a woman whom he had dated from Lake Forest, is turning over in his grave. Sexual misconduct in Lake Forest? I'm shocked, shocked.

The ostensibly different outcomes have bedeviled the pundits, but anyone old enough to remember OJ Simpson's not-guilty verdict in his murder trial, following which he was found liable to the tune of $33 million for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, or who watched the Kurosawa classic movie "Rashomon" can understand that different triers of fact, basing their judgments on different witnesses, and applying different standards, can come up with different results. Perhaps to a lesser degree the two cases highlight the different outcomes from juries or judges. Having once been a lawyer, a judge can almost always find "reasonable doubt"; jurors perhaps less so as the obscene volume of wrongful convictions in this county testify. Defendants in Illinois always have the right to have a judge decide their guilt and because judges don't have to explain their verdicts, they can always say that they didn't believe the testimony. Not that the conspiracy case verdict benefits Van Dyke in any way, but his brother (and sister) officers can sleep easier at night knowing that they won't likely be at risk for watching police misconduct, and not reporting it. And because Van Dyke was sentenced on only the "second degree murder" count (and not the 16 aggravated battery counts he was also convicted of), he is "parole eligible," and under Illinois' day-for-day system of "good-time" credits, he could get out in three years, giving him credit for the three months he's been in the joint since his guilty verdict.

My case, the first time I had sat on a jury, was somewhat more prosaic, and since I'm at the end of my self-imposed five-paragraph limit, I'll save that for later. Suffice it that the defendant in that motor vehicle crash case was not in good hands. Stay tuned.

JE comments:  We hear of the police "blue wall," and then there's the "white wall" for physicians.  Or is not snitching on a comrade one of the fundamental laws of any social grouping?  (Lawyers excepted, as they have to sue each other.)  Chicago police officers, as David Duggan observes here, learned from the McDonald case that they need not tear down that [blue] wall.

Looking forward to your report from the jurors box, David.  I'm surprised they didn't excuse you from the outset.  What trial lawyer wants one of their kind sitting on the jury?


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