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Chicago police officer faces trial in shooting of black teen

CHICAGO — For almost three years, Chicago has been grappling with the impact of a few seconds of grainy video that show a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, emptying his service weapon into Laquan McDonald, causing the black teenager to spin and fall to the ground.

Since a judge in November 2015 ordered the release of the dashboard camera footage of the fatal shooting, jobs have been lost, trust shattered, charges filed, investigations launched and scathing reports written.

Their names still appear regularly in the news, but only once in a while are McDonald and Van Dyke the lead story or a front page headline.

That is now changing: Van Dyke is about to stand trial on a murder charge, accused of firing 16 bullets into McDonald.

THE TEEN

The teenager had told authorities he smoked marijuana every day and was arrested at least once for marijuana possession. School officials and the McDonald family’s lawyer said there had been signs he was trying to get his life back in order, but the night he was shot, McDonald had PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, in his system and had been breaking into cars and slashing tires.

THE OFFICER

Van Dyke joined the Chicago Police Department in the summer of 2001 and on the night he killed McDonald, the married father of two children was still a patrol officer. But his career had not been uneventful. According to a University of Chicago database that includes police reports from 2002 to 2008 and from 2011 to 2015, at least 20 citizen complaints were filed against him, eight of which alleged excessive force. According to a media report at the time, a jury awarded $350,000 to a man who filed an excessive force lawsuit against Van Dyke. The officer was never disciplined.

THE SHOOTING

It was a 911 call on the night of Oct. 20, 2014, reporting a person trying to break into vehicles on the Southwest Side that put McDonald on a collision course with Chicago police. Officials say McDonald ignored officers’ orders to drop the knife they could see in his hand.

The first two officers on the scene were not armed with a Taser, so, according to the city’s attorney, they requested that an officer with a Taser come to the scene. While waiting, they pulled their squad car in front of McDonald to keep him from leaving. He punctured the tires with his knife.

Soon Van Dyke and another officer arrived and drew their service weapons. Van Dyke opened fire within seconds.

THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT

After the shooting, the scene was a flurry of activity as more officers arrived. Also on the scene was Pat Camden, the acting spokesman for the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police. Camden told reporters that Van Dyke fired his weapon after McDonald lunged at him with a knife. The police department said in a statement that McDonald “refused to comply with orders and drop the knife and continued to approach the offices” when he was shot.

Van Dyke said he fired because the teen attacked him with a knife. Other officers at the scene supported that version of events in their own reports.

THE UNRAVELING

For months, questions about the shooting dogged the department. The autopsy found McDonald had PCP in his system, fitting the narrative that he had been acting erratically. The report also revealed that the teen had been shot 16 times. After attorneys for the McDonald family watched the squad car video, they announced that McDonald had been walking away from Van Dyke when the officer opened fire from about 15 feet (4.5 meters) away and continued to fire when the teen fell to the ground.

Activists, journalists and attorneys pushed for the video’s release and in November 2015 — more than a year after the shooting — a judge ordered the city to make it public. The video confirmed the lawyers’ assessment of the scene.

THE FALLOUT

On the day the video was released, prosecutors announced that they had charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in an apparent attempt to maintain calm on the streets of Chicago. It didn’t work. The video sparked massive protests, including angry confrontations between demonstrators and police.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was voted out of office the following spring, scorned for waiting for the video’s release before charging Van Dyke. Weeks later, three more officers were indicted for obstruction of justice and other charges related to the alleged cover-up of the shooting. A year after that, a scathing U.S. Department of Justice report called out the police department for deep-rooted civil rights violations, racial bias and the use of excessive force.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose lawyers had fought to keep the video under wraps, meanwhile scrambled to contain the growing crisis. He ignored calls for his resignation and promised “complete and total” police reform . A $5 million settlement with the McDonald family was announced just days after Emanuel won re-election in April 2015.

He fired his hand-picked police superintendent, Garry McCarthy, who is now running for mayor .

On Tuesday, the day before jury selection in Van Dyke’s murder trial was set to begin, Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term. He provided no reason and his office said the pending trial did not figure in his decision.