Civil rights

Documents suggest there will be no federal civil rights charges against Jason Van Dyke for killing Laquan McDonald

CHICAGO (WLS) — There has been renewed push for federal charges in the murder of teenager Laquan McDonald. Documents obtained by the I-Team that suggest the civil rights case was closed in 2019.

In early 2019, documents show the FBI was investigating whether Van Dyke violated McDonald’s civil rights when he killed the Chicago teenager during a police operation. But this federal investigation was to end in mid-2019. There have been no federal charges, and there is no indication that there will be.

On January 18, 2019, Van Dyke was sentenced in Cook County court to six and three-quarters years in federal prison for McDonald’s murder. Van Dyke notoriously fired 16 shots killing the knife-wielding teenager.

READ MORE: Jason Van Dyke released from prison; 9 people arrested during a demonstration in the city center

According to a federal court filing four days later, filed Jan. 22, the government confirms that a civil rights investigation into Van Dyke was underway. So even though Van Dyke had been convicted of second-degree murder in state court, the US Department of Justice was investigating at the time whether he had also violated McDonald’s civil rights.

Prosecutors stating in early 2019 “The government expects the investigation to continue for at least approximately another six months.”

The civil rights investigation of that shooting by Van Dyke was still active, with FBI officials seeking search warrants to access the social media accounts of witnesses to the incident.

But six months later, in the summer of 2019, no civil rights charges have been announced. And to date, with Van Dyke already out of state prison for murder, no federal charges have been filed.

“Each day that passes makes it even less likely,” said Gil Soffer, former federal prosecutor and ABC7 legal analyst.

He acknowledges the new protests, demands for charges from the community, and political pressures on a new attorney general and a new administration in Washington. But Soffer says charges seem unlikely.

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“Cases rarely get better over time. They usually get worse,” Soffer said. “There is no reason to think anything new has come to light that would lead the DOJ to sue when it appears that over these many years they have decided not to.”

Soffer notes that Chicago U.S. Attorney John Lausch is Van Dyke’s decision maker. Possible lawsuits land on his desk, and as the lead federal attorney here, a civil rights case would be in Lausch’s hands. Most notable is this: Lausch was also the United States Attorney in 2019, during that first civil rights investigation; and a decision at the time not to charge Van Dyke.

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