Chicago, IL – The Illinois attorney general and special prosecutor have challenged former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s prison sentence.
Van Dyke was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald on Jan. 18.
Now Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon have filed a writ of mandamus with the Illinois Supreme Court that claims Van Dyke should have been sentenced based “on all sixteen aggravated battery convictions,” instead of second-degree murder, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“This is the first step in asking the court to declare that the trial court improperly sentenced Jason Van Dyke for the murder and aggravated battery of Laquan McDonald, and to order a new sentencing hearing,” Raoul said, according to WBBM.
Supreme Court precedent says that second-degree murder is a less serious offense than aggravated battery since aggravated battery carries a more serious penalty, the writ filed with the Supreme Court alleged.
The writ said Gaughan cited a dissenting opinion in that precedent when he sentenced Van Dyke for second-degree murder, rather than his aggravated battery charges, according to WBBM.
“I’m not casting aspersions on the judge. The question is whether the sentence was consistent with the laws of the state of Illinois, and it is our belief that the sentence was not,” the attorney general said.
After the sentencing, the special prosecutor told reporters that he thought the lenient sentence was because the judge had taken Van Dyke’s years of service as a police officer into account, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The attorney general said he does not think that the judge followed the law when he sentenced Van Dyke based on the lesser of his charges.
Van Dyke’s attorney, Daniel Herbert, accused the newly-elected Raoul of using his client’s case for political gain, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Activists were furious that the former police officer would be eligible for parole in as little as three years, and Raoul took office just days before Van Dyke was sentenced.
“This is about politics, not the law,” Herbert said.
The attorney general argued the assertions that his challenge to the Van Dyke sentence was politically motivated, calling the allegation “nonsense,” WBBM reported.
“This is a question of law and it’s in the interests of justice that the law be followed, no matter who the defendant, and no matter who the victim is in a particular case; and that is not a political question, that is a question of law,” Raoul said.
The shooting occurred at about 9:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police responded to a report of a teenager breaking into vehicles in the 4000-block of South Karlov Avenue, Fraternal Order of Police Spokesman Pat Camden told WLS at the time.
The teen, later identified as McDonald, slashed the front passenger tire of a patrol SUV, damaged the vehicle’s windshield, and took off on foot, police said.
Officers intercepted the armed suspect in the 4100-block of South Pulaski Road and ordered him to drop the knife, but he refused.
Officer Van Dyke arrived on the scene, and when McDonald stepped toward him armed with the knife, he opened fire, fatally shooting him.
According to the Chicago Tribune, police said McDonald was under the influence of PCP at the time of the incident.
During the trial, Van Dyke’s attorney said that the incident was "a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step," the Chicago Tribune reported.
Herbert then dropped the knife McDonald had been carrying that night onto the courtroom floor.
"At any point throughout that 20-something minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped the knife, he'd be here today," he declared.
Speaking on his own behalf at his trial, Van Dyke said that the fatal encounter was the "worst day of my life."
It was the only time he ever fired his weapon in the line of duty, and he feared for his life, he said, holding back tears.
Van Dyke expressed remorse for the McDonald family's loss.
"No one wants to take someone's life, even in defense of their own," he said.
Van Dyke faced a wide variety of possible sentences for his convictions, varying from probation to as many as 96 years in prison, the Chicago Tribune reported.
His defense team asked Gaughan to sentence him to probation, and submitted dozens of letters written by the former officer’s friends and family to support the request.
In one of the letters, Van Dyke’s 12-year-old daughter told the judge that she has struggled to stay focused in school and that she often has nightmares since her father’s arrest, the Chicago Tribune reported.
His 17-year-old daughter, Kaylee, wrote that she has experienced depression since her father’s conviction, and that she cries every night while wondering if he has enough food and blankets in his jail cell, the Chicago Tribune reported.
"I can't begin to tell you what an amazing, remarkable, outstanding man my father is,” Kaylee said on the witness stand. “I know who he really is…Now that he is gone, I feel as I am left with nothing."
"Many get police brutality confused with assertiveness or having to deal with people who are out of control," the high school junior continued. “How does society change to realize officers are normal people who have families and put their life on the line to protect us?"
Kaylee told the judge that her father didn’t cause the pain her family is experiencing. She said that fault lies with politicians and the media.
“My dad is the strongest, most selfless person with the biggest heart,” she said. “Please…bring my dad home.”
“I love you, Dad,” Kaylee said, looking at her father sitting at the defense table.
Tiffany, who has been married to Van Dyke for nearly 20 years, said that there is no “malice” or “racism” in her husband, and that the Chicago Police Department lost a fantastic officer.
“My husband is my everything,” she said through tears. “He’s my heart.”
Tiffany said that her husband is her first thought every day, and that their life without him has become “torture.”
She begged the court to have mercy in rendering her husband’s sentence.
Tiffany said that she and her father-in-law have had to wear ballistic vests when they travel to and from the courthouse due to threats that have been made, and that her greatest fear is that her husband will be murdered in prison.
The couple’s children have been viciously bullied and targeted as a result of the case, Tiffany and other family members testified.
Several retired law enforcement officers with decades of experience also testified on Van Dyke’s behalf.
Former Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo said that the McDonald would still be alive if he would have complied with the officers’ commands to drop his weapon.
“He’s not the monster people have made him out to be in the media and in political circles,” he explained. “He is a big gentle kid. He’s a hard worker. He’s dedicated. He’s a good dad. He’s religious. He’s quite loyal.”
Special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said that Van Dyke acted egregiously during the fatal shooting, and that he must be sentenced to prison.
He recommended that the court impose a sentence of 18 to 20 years.
"Probation is absolutely not appropriate," McMahon added.
Prosecutors presented a litany of “traumatized” suspects that he had contact with Officer Van Dyke throughout his career during the aggravating phase of the hearing.
Van Dyke has been incarcerated at the Rock Island County Jail in solitary confinement since his conviction for his own protection, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The former police officer was convicted of 16 counts of aggravated battery and second-degree murder on Oct. 5, 2018.