With former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke set to be released from prison this week, Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth want to know more about a federal investigation into the 2014 killing of teen Laquan McDonald.
The two U.S. senators on Tuesday wrote a letter urging Attorney General Merrick Garland to provide a status update on the federal investigation into Van Dykes “shocking and upsetting” murder of McDonald.
“Van Dyke’s state conviction and sentencing do not preempt or negate the interest of the federal government, if the evidence supports charging Van Dyke with violating McDonald’s civil rights under Section 242 of Title 18,” Durbin and Duckworth said.
Van Dyke was convicted in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm after he shot the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in the middle of a Southwest Side street.
Dash camera video of the shooting made national news and sparked widespread calls for reforming of the Chicago Police Department, eventually leading to an ongoing consent decree.
While he faced the potential of several years in prison — special prosecutors had recommended at least 18 years — Van Dyke received an 81 month sentence, of which he’s only had to serve half. With his expected release Thursday, activists and some elected officials have begun pressuring the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal civil rights charges against the ex-officer.
In their letter, Durbin and Duckworth note that Van Dyke’s conviction and sentencing in state court don’t “preempt or negate the interest of the federal government, if the evidence supports charging Van Dyke with violating McDonald’s civil rights.”
The senators compare this to the case of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in state court for the murder of George Floyd, then later pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges.
“We urge the Justice Department to carefully and expeditiously complete its investigation. We look forward to your prompt report on the status of the Justice Department’s investigation and consideration of any federal action on this matter.”
Chicago’s aldermanic Black Caucus similarly penned a letter this week, asking the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Illinois to “review and consider (Van Dyke’s) case for evaluation.”
“It is a sad day in history when the justice system releases an offender that deserves the full sentence” they wrote, ”especially when it is a police officer who wrongfully killed a 17-year old black teenager by shooting him 16 times.”