Not that it ought to be any surprise to anybody who looked at the evidence, but Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke has just been found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald.

There was a hypothetical narrative under which Officer Van Dyke’s narrative of innocence might have been compelling, but he never offered such a narrative, even after testifying in his own defense — likely because he hadn’t the evidence to support it.

There appears to be little question that McDonald was a PCP addict who was staggering down a public way with a knife in hand, and who was non-compliant to police orders. That, however, is not sufficient cause to be shot and killed by police.

Here’s that video of the shooting–McDonald dies here, so if you’re sensitive to such things, don’t click the image:

The relevant legal standard for the use of deadly force by police is that the suspect was presenting an imminent threat of deadly force to innocents, either officers or the public. In this particular case, a weak but theoretical argument could be made that McDonald represented such a threat as he wandered down the public street with a knife in hand. Once Van Dyke had shot him eight to nine times, however, and planted McDonald on the pavement, whatever threat McDonald presented was likely neutralized. And yet, after that, Van Dyke shot McDonald another eight or so times.

Might it be possible that Van Dyke shot McDonald on the ground to protect another officer from harm who was coming in to handcuff McDonald? That would have been a theoretically acceptable explanation for Van Dyke’s continued use of force. Ultimately, however, not even Van Dyke made that claim of justification, even when he took the witness stand in his own defense at trial. Instead, Van Dyke claimed to have perceived movement and apparent threat by McDonald that was outright contradicted by actual dash cam video of McDonald.

I would note that if we were to put Van Dyke on a “lie detector” device he might well pass as telling the truth about what he perceived re: McDonald’s threat to himself or others. But just because a purported defender genuinely believed the force they were using was lawful, doesn’t mean that the folks tasked with judging that use of force will agree–especially when the evidence is contrary to that perception, and perhaps even when the evidence is not obviously contrary. Caveat emptor.


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