Jason Van Dyke Sentenced To Less Than 7 Years For Murder of Laquan McDonald; 3 Officers Acquitted In Cover-up
By Michael Walters
21 January 2019
On Friday Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer Jason Van Dyke was sentenced to less than seven years (81 months) in prison, plus two years’ probation for the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The sentence was handed down by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Gaughan one day after three CPD officers were found not guilty of conspiracy charges stemming from their role in covering up the murder of the African-American teen. Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to be convicted of murder during an on-duty assault in more than half a century.
Van Dyke was convicted in October 2018 by a jury of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one for every bullet Van Dyke unloaded into McDonald’s body over a 15-second period. Van Dyke could have received up to 20 years for second degree murder and between six and 30 years for each count of aggravated battery. If he was given the full sentence, he could have been in prison for the rest of his life. The minimal sentence can only be understood as the action of a ruling class that needed to sentence Van Dyke to avoid an eruption of social anger but did not want to set a precedent that might limit the ability of the police to act with the utmost violence.
The special prosecutor, Joseph McMahon, requested in his closing argument that Van Dyke receive 18 to 20 years. The defense argued that the case “screamed out for probation” due to the officer’s “clean” past and unlikeliness to reoffend. Including the time already served, and an early release he would not have received under aggravated battery, Van Dyke will likely spend less time in prison than it would have taken McDonald to go through high school.
Judge Gaughan overrode the jury’s conviction of murder and battery by electing to only sentence on the second-degree murder, reasoning that murder charge was the most serious conviction since the death was the result of the battery. Further, he stated that if he were to sentence on the aggravated battery charges, he would have combined the 16 convictions into one because they were all part of one act. Even if one accepts the reasoning that Van Dyke should only have been sentenced on murder, the 6.75-year sentence stands in contrast to the will of the jury.
On the second day of deliberations, a Dallas jury found police officer Roy Oliver guilty of murder. Oliver was found not guilty on two aggravated assault charges.
This was one heck of a trial.
Roy Oliver is the former Balch Springs, Texas officer charged with murder and two counts of aggravated battery by a public servant. I first blogged about this case in May 2017 when Roy Oliver was charged for the April 29, 2017 incident. His trial began on Thursday, August 16, 2018.
To summarize, Oliver and his partner were called about an under-aged drinking party. However, no alcohol or drugs were found. While in the house where the party was taking place, gunshots were heard outside. (It was subsequently determined that the shots were unrelated to the party.)
Jordan Edwards, 15 years old, was at the party with friends and relatives. When the police showed up, they decided to leave and went to the car. They were trying to drive away when Oliver and his partner ran outside after hearing the gunshots. Oliver used his service rifle and fired at least 5 shots into the car where Jordan was a passenger. Jordan was shot in the head. Read the rest of this entry
While waiting on the next trial, or some good news to report about civil cases that I can blog about, I’ve been watching more movies than usual. The other night, I came upon a HBO documentary titled Valentine Road. It was released in 2013. It was deemed an Academy Award worthy documentary film by Marta Cunningham, a Black woman. The HBO description of the movie does not give it justice, but it peeked my interest enough to want to watch it.
USA Today praised the film as: “Haunting, heartfelt and even handed.” It recommended that “Valentine Road be required viewing in teaching tolerance on middle school and high school campuses.”
Indeed, it has. GLSEN, and the Museum of Tolerance use the film as an educational tool for school administrations.
After watching Valentine Road, I think it should also be required viewing for everyone interested in how jurors use their personal feelings, biases, and hypocritical double standards, to hang or acquit defendants in spite of evidence.
In 2008 after reading an article by the Southern Poverty Law Center about the case, Marta Cunningham embedded herself in the blue collar community of Oxnard, California. From 350 hours of footage, Cunningham packs profound interviews and information into an 89-minute documentary. Read the rest of this entry
Deborah Danner was a 66-year old senior citizen with schizophrenia. On October 18, 2016, Deborah was in her Bronx apartment when a neighbor called the police and reported that Deborah was screaming. New York City Police Sergeant Hugh Barry arrived on the scene and shot Deborah dead. For more about what happened, see my post from May 2017.
In May 2017, Barry was charged with murder, manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide. His trial began yesterday, January 30, 2018. It is expected to last 3 weeks. Barry has waived his rights to a jury trial and opted for a bench trial. The question to be decided by Judge Robert A. Neary is whether Sergeant Barry had exhausted other options for safely containing Ms. Danner before he fired his pistol. As I’ve written in other posts, this is clearly an abuse of discretion standard; not a beyond a reasonable doubt standard.
Deborah was intelligent. She wrote a six-page essay about her illness to a lawyer saying, “We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead.”
The Message In His Defense Is that Black Lives Matter Is An Inconvenience Because Had Deborah Been White, Barry Would Not Have Been Charged For Killing Her
It was Saturday, May 20, 2017. Richard Wilbur Collins III was 23 years old. He completed his ROTC training and had been recently commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, where he expected to join the intelligence division.
Richard was attending Bowie State University, in Maryland. He was with two friends standing at a bus stop at the University of Maryland’s campus in College Park. In three days, he was to graduate.
Sean Christopher Urbanski took away Richard’s opportunity to graduate. Urbankski took away Richard’s military career. Urbanksi took away Richard’s future. Urbankski took all of that away by carrying out an unprovoked stabbing to Richard’s chest with a knife.
On the day of what would have been Richard’s commencement ceremony, his cap and gown were draped over an empty seat during the ceremony. His family received a standing ovation as they accepted a degree on Richard’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Sean Christopher Urbanski was sitting in a jail cell, denied bail. Read the rest of this entry
On Friday, 35-year-old Jeremy Joseph Christian, of north Portland, Oregon, boarded a light rail MAX train in Northeast Portland. He apparently had a chip on his shoulder and, for no discernable reason, began berating two women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. He began ranting and shouting, telling them to “Get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here”. Fearing that his rants were escalating, at least three other passengers acted to try to calm Mr. Christian and protect the two women. Two of the three men are now dead, the third is in the hospital being treated for non-life-threatening injuries, and Mr. Christian is being held without bond in police custody on two counts of aggravated murder, one count of attempted murder, two counts of intimidation in the second degree and one count of possession of a restricted weapon…
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On April 29, 2017, 15-year old Jordan Edwards was leaving a party with two of his older brothers. He was in the passenger seat of a vehicle when shot in the head by Balch Springs, Texas patrol officer Roy Oliver.
The Balch Springs Police Chief was quick coming forth with the officer’s side of the story. It was reported that Officer Roy Oliver was called to investigate reports of underage drinking at a house party. When they arrived, they heard what they believed were gunshots. A car of teenagers leaving the party was driving toward the police in reverse in an “aggressive manner.” Oliver opened fire, striking Jordan Edwards in the head. Jordan died at a hospital.
Roy Oliver was placed on administrative duty while the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department and the Dallas County District Attorney’ Office began investigating the shooting. The Balch Springs Police Department began an internal investigation.
The following Tuesday, Roy Oliver was fired on the basis that he violated department policies. Police Chief Jonathan Haber stated that he rushed to get information out to the public, but since watched two body cam videos showing that the teens were driving away from the officers when Oliver fired. Read the rest of this entry
A jury of 12 and 2 alternates have heard opening statements and is hearing testimony in the trial of Derrick Stafford. The trial is taking place in Marksville, Louisiana. Stafford, along with his partner Norris Greenhouse, Jr. are charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the November 2, 2015 shooting death of 6-year old Jeremy Mardis. Jeremy was the in the vehicle with his dad, Christopher Few, who was wounded when Stafford and his Greenhouse, Jr. opened fire.
Greenhouse, Jr. is scheduled for a separate trial later this year.
“Video from a police officer’s body camera shows the father had his hands raised inside his vehicle when the officers fired their semiautomatic pistols. At least four of their 18 shots ripped into the child’s body while he was strapped into the front seat.
Relatives of the victims wept as jurors watched the graphic video from the shooting. Several jurors were also seen wiping away tears.”
Stafford and Greenhouse stated that they opened fire on Few because he tried ramming his car into them. A state police detective has testified there isn’t any physical evidence that Few’s car collided with Greenhouse’s vehicle.
Ballistics evidence shows none of the 18 shots fired by the two deputies hit the front or back of Few’s car. The prosecution is using that as evident that neither deputy was in danger. “Cars don’t move sideways,” the prosecutor said.
On August 18, 2015, East Point, Georgia police officers Cpl. Howard Weems and Sgt. Marcus Eberhart were indicted on charges related to the April 11, 2014 death of 24-year old Gregory Towns. Eberhart resigned and Weems was terminated after the incident. Their trial began on December 5, 2016.
On April 11, 2014, Weems and Eberhart responded to a domestic violence call in the Atlanta suburb. Another officer was also present. Gregory Towns ran and was apprehended. According to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, after apprehending Gregory,the officers handcuffed him. They demanded him to stand and walk to a waiting patrol car. Gregory indicated that he was out of breath and could not stand. Both officers used their tasers on Gregory, and even after attempting to walk but collapsing, the officers continued to tase him.
Gregory was tased 13-14 times. Read the rest of this entry
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof went to the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina where they were holding Bible Study. He shot and killed 9 people. A manhunt resulted, and Roof was found and arrested in North Carolina. He confessed to the killings.
Roof is an avowed White supremacist who perceived that he had to save the White race from Blacks. He wanted to start a race war. Roof waited until parishioners closed their eyes to pray before firing his Glock .45-caliber pistol. When it was over, Roof had fired more than 70 shots, striking his victims 60 times.
The 22-year old is charged with 12 federal counts of hate crimes, 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion, and 9 counts of firearm violations. Federal prosecutors seek the death penalty.
Discarding empty magazines and reloading his weapon, Roof found survivor Polly Sheppard hiding as she prayed. Roof told her to shut up, before asking if she had been shot. Sheppard was then told that she would be left alive so that she could tell others what had occurred. She will likely serve as the final witness for the prosecution in the guilt phase of the trial.
Since he was arrested, there have been numerous pleadings and hearings in the case. To report on each one would be tedious. The most recent included a motion to find Roof mentally incompetent to stand trial. The court denied that motion. The LA Times reports that Judge Gergel found Roof capable of standing trial on the basis that he completed the 9th grade and had an “extremely high IQ” and was able to understand courtroom proceedings. A legal expert however, stated that there is a clear difference between intellectual ability and judgment.
It is not known what type of mental illness or emotional disturbance Roof may or may not have because the hearings were closed to the public.
Roof’s attorneys offered to change Roof’s plea to guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole. Federal prosecutors turned down the offer.
Just before jury selection, Roof motioned the judge to release his attorneys. He wanted to represent himself. The judge granted Roof’s motion. After jury selection, Roof asked the judge to rehire his attorneys, but he wants to represent himself during the penalty phase. The judge granted his motion. Read the rest of this entry
Former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was charged with murder or voluntary manslaughter in the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man. Walter Scott was shot in the back 5 times.
A by-stander’s video was released shortly after the deadly encounter that shows Slager unholstered his weapon and fire as Walter ran away. Slager’s attorney then withdrew his representation and Slager was terminated from his job and charged with murder.
On Friday, the jury told judge Judge Newman that one juror was holding out for a not-guilty verdict. Subsequently, the jury told Judge Newman that with further instructions on the law, they might be able to come to a unanimous decision.
After sending questions to the court this morning, and receiving answers to those questions, the jury sent a note saying they were deadlocked.
Judge Newman declared a mistrial.
Michael Slager also faces federal charges, including violation of Walter Scott’s civil rights. That trial is scheduled for next year.
Michael Slager took the witness stand at his murder trial today. Following him were defense witnesses who tried to explain how Slager has selective memory.
Before watching Slager’s testimony, and if you have not yet watched it, here is the video captured by a bystander. It shows when Slager fired his gun at Walter Scott as Scott was running away.
Here is Slager’s testimony, giving his non-video version.
Hat Tip to Pat/Ohio
(Published using Press This)
Ray Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati officer who shot and killed a black man during a traffic stop in 2015, will be retried on murder and voluntary manslaughter charges, prosecutors in Ohio announced Tuesday.
A mistrial was declared November 12, after jurors spent more than 25 hours deliberating but could not come to a decision.
Tensing, who is white, shot Sam DuBose in the head in July 2015 after pulling him over for a missing front license plate and asking for his license, an incident that was largely captured on body camera video.”
After careful consideration, I have decided that the Tensing case will be retried,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said in a statement Tuesday.
“This decision was made after review of the trial transcript, discussion with some of the jurors, and consultation with my staff,” Deters said.”I am hopeful that a second jury will be able to reach a decision to bring justice in this case for the victim’s family and our community.” Read the rest of this entry
On April 4, 2015, in North Charleston, South Carolina, at approximately 9:30 a.m., Walter Scott was pulled over for a non-functioning brake-light. At some point, Walter got out of his car and ran. He was pursued by police officer Michael Slager. The situation ended with Slager shooting 50-year old Walter 5 times in the back as Walter ran away from him.
A by-stander recorded the portion of the incident where Walter ran, Slager fired his gun, and then picked up a taser and placed it by Walter’s body. Slager’s defense centered around the taser. He alleged that Walter used the taser on him and was coming towards him, causing him to shoot Walter. Slager’s original lawyer, David Aylor, withdrew as counsel within hours of the release of the video. Read the rest of this entry
On July 19 2015, Sam DuBose was shot and killed by now former University of Cincinnati Police Officer Ray Tensing. Hamilton County prosecutors say that DuBose’s death was unwarranted and it was murder. Sam did not have a weapon or appear to be reaching for a weapon.
Tensing’s defense is that DuBose dragged him with the car.
Prosecutors say that Tensing’s bodycam shows that he was not dragged. A grand jury indicted Tensing on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. Tensing was terminated from the police department.
The murder charge carries the possibility of life in prison. The voluntary manslaughter charge carries the possibility of 3 to 11 years in prison.
Some of you might remember this case that we originally reported in June 2015.
To recap, Phillip Seidle was a 22 year veteran of New Jersey’s Neptune Township Police department. On June 16, 2015, he chased his ex-wife as she was driving. The couple has 9 children ranging from ages 7 to 24, but the 7-year old daughter was the only child in the car with Phillip. He rammed his wife’s car causing her to crash into another vehicle.
Phillip Seidle got out of his car, drew his 40 caliber Glock service pistol, and fired several shots into the side of his ex-wife’s car. He then positioned himself in front of his ex-wife’s car and fired several more shots through the windshield. Tamara died. The couple had been divorced for 3 weeks.
Dash Cam Video
In 2007, Daniel Willis applied for work with the Travis County Texas Sheriff’s office. He entered in his employment application that he had applied to the Round Rock Police Department. However, he missed the exam date. He had also applied to work for the Austin Police Department but failed the department’s psychological exam.
Travis County hired Daniel Willis as a jail correction officer. Beginning in 2010, Willis applied to be a patrol deputy for the Travis County Texas Sheriff’s Office. He applied three times, and failed three times.
In 2012, one of Willis’ jail supervisors wrote in his review that Willis needed “more development in handling explosive situations and the utilization of common sense.”
Notwithstanding his past failures and the review, in May 2013, Willis resigned his job with Travis County for a position as a patrol deputy for Bastrop County. Less than a year later, on February 16, 2014, Willis killed an unarmed woman without warning. Less than 2 weeks after Willis killed 47-year old Yvette Smith, Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering told the Austin American-Statesman newspaper that some of his staff tampered with Willis’ training records to fix mistakes. Read the rest of this entry
Yesterday, the City of Cincinnati was preparing for disgruntled citizens to take to the street in response to the release of a police officer’s body cam video and a grand jury’s decision. The University of Cincinnati even closed its main campus in anticipation. But today, there will be no protests for an arrest in the killing of Samuel DuBose.
On July 19, 2015, University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing pulled 43 year-old Samuel DuBose over for a traffic stop. Samuel was driving a green 1998 Honda Accord without a front license plate. Tensing shot DuBose in the head.
Officer Ray Tensing’s body camera captured the moment when he killed Samuel DuBose With the release of the body cam video, also came an indictment for murder in what a prosecutor called a shooting that was “unwarranted” and “senseless.” Read the rest of this entry
A passerby video taken by cell phone showed a man running, his back turned, as 8 bullets were fired at him until he fell. Had investigators depended solely on North Charleston Police Officer’s Michael T. Slager’s story, the 33-year old might not have been charged with murder.
Slager stopped 50-year old Walter Scott for a broken brake light and found that Scott was wanted on a warrant for failure to pay child support. Slager claimed he tried to subdue Scott with a taser, only for Scott to take the taser from him before trying to overpower him, making the cop fear for his life, leaving him no choice but to open fire.