A jury awarded a Chicago man $350,000 after he accused Jason Van Dyke of excessive force
Van Dyke was the target of at least 20 complaints and two lawsuits before the October 2014 shooting
GoFundMe deactivates his wife's page asking for $80,000 to help "respected officer" pay legal bills
Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged in Laquan McDonald’s shooting death, had a history of complaints before he gunned down the 17-year-old last year – and in almost every case, he was cleared in one way or another.
The allegations mostly involve excessive force, and at least one complaint alleges he used a racial slur.
There appear to be no criminal proceedings against Van Dyke before this week, but a jury did award a Chicago man $350,000 after determining Van Dyke employed excessive force during a traffic stop. (The city of Chicago also gave McDonald’s mother, who had not yet filed a lawsuit, $5 million in April).
Little is available in the way of biographical information on Van Dyke, who grew up in the Chicago area.
What’s known is he has two children – 9 and 14 – and a wife, Tiffany. Despite GoFundMe removing her page this week, his wife is attempting to raise money for her husband’s legal defense. She calls him “a highly decorated and respected officer.”
Before Tuesday, Van Dyke had remained with the Chicago Police Department on limited duty since the October 2014 shooting. A judge’s ruling that a graphic video of McDonald’s death must be released to the public spurred Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to announce a first-degree murder charge earlier than she had planned, she said.
Outraged that it took 13 months to charge the officer, largely peaceful demonstrators took to the Windy City’s streets Tuesday to demand justice in McDonald’s death.
Tale of the tape
Van Dyke turned himself in to authorities Tuesday, a few hours before video of him gunning down McDonald was made public. According to the dashboard camera footage and a criminal complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Van Dyke responded to the scene and remained in his car for more than 20 seconds as McDonald, armed with a knife and with PCP in his system, approached police cars in the street before veering away from officers who had their guns trained on him.
None of the eight or more officers on the scene fired their weapons, but within six seconds of exiting his vehicle, Van Dyke began unloading the 16-round magazine in his 9 mm pistol. McDonald was about 10 feet away when he opened fire.
Only two of those shots, one to the lower back and another to the upper leg, were definitively fired while McDonald was still standing, according to the criminal complaint. And though it states that only a single shot to McDonald’s right hand was definitively fired after he hit the asphalt, it also notes that he was on the ground for about 13 of the 14 or 15 seconds that it took Van Dyke to empty his clip.
Attorney Daniel Herbert, who has repeatedly told CNN that Van Dyke feared for his life, says the video hardly tells the entire story.
“Video by nature is two-dimensional, and it distorts images,” he said. “So what appears to be clear on a video sometimes is not always that clear.”
The criminal complaint paints Van Dyke’s response as excessive – an allegation his lawyer has denied – and it isn’t the first time Van Dyke was accused of using unnecessary force.
On at least 20 occasions in Van Dyke’s 14-year career, citizens have filed complaints against Van Dyke, according to the Citizens Police Data Project, a database of misconduct complaints filed against more than 8,500 Chicago police officers. The database, a collaboration between the Invisible Institute and the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, is not comprehensive and represents only three data sets spanning 2002 to 2008 and 2011 to 2015.
To put the complaints against Van Dyke in perspective, the Chicago Police Department has about 12,000 officers. Like Van Dyke, 402 officers have 20 or more complaints on file in the database. The most complaints against any officer, according to the database, is 68.
The database shows that of the 20 complaints against Van Dyke none resulted in discipline.
Five complaints in the database were “not sustained,” five were unfounded, four resulted in exoneration, five had unknown outcomes and one resulted in no action taken.
Code of silence?
Though Van Dyke is considered to have a below-average “allegation rate,” according to the database, at least one member of the organization that put the clearinghouse together believes the complaints point to a troubling pattern.
“The misconduct complaints we do have in our data tool show by and large excessive force and racial slurs. And he has largely operated with impunity and under a code of silence with the same huddle of officers again and again,” Alison Flowers of the Invisible Institute told CNN affiliate WLS.
Van Dyke has also faced at least two lawsuits alleging excessive force during his time on the force. One was dismissed, but in the other, a jury ruled for the plaintiff in a civil case accusing Van Dyke and his partner of excessive force, assault, battery and illegal seizure.
According to the complaint, Edward Nance, an African-American, was driving with his cousin, Carlton Clark, on July 9, 2007. Van Dyke and his partner pulled the pair over.
Van Dyke painfully cuffed Nance, injuring his shoulders, before pulling him out of the car, the complaint said. The car was impounded after Clark was arrested for possession of marijuana. No criminal charges were filed against Nance, but he had to go the hospital and required surgeries on his shoulders, according to the complaint.
A jury awarded Nance $350,000, and a judge tacked on $180,000 for Nance’s legal fees, court records show.
CNN’s attempts to reach Nance were not immediately successful, but the cable company employee and high school basketball referee told the Chicago Tribune earlier this year that he felt the Police Department didn’t take his complaint seriously and that Van Dyke and the partner were “back on the street like nothing ever happened.”
Told that Van Dyke was under investigation in McDonald’s death, Nance said during the April interview that it never should’ve gone so far.
“It just makes me so sad because it shouldn’t have happened. … He shouldn’t have been on the street in the first place after my incident,” he told the newspaper. “It makes me feel like it could have been me.”
Show of support
Despite Van Dyke’s history of past complaints – and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy demanding that the officer be held accountable in McDonald’s death – his lawyer, wife and police union are standing beside him.
Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge asked its current and former members Tuesday to contribute to a fund to post Van Dyke’s bail, WLS reported. (The same day, a judge ordered he be held without bail until at least Monday.)
The local FOP also directed visitors to its website to a GoFundMe webpage set up by Van Dyke’s wife. On it, Tiffany Van Dyke asked for $80,000, saying her husband “was in a shooting that has been covered extensively by the media and we ask for your patience for all the facts to come out in the trial.”
She cited her husband’s awards and letters of commendation, pleading, “I do not want to have to fight this battle alone nor can we afford to fight it. We desperately need your help. I know this is a very large amount of money, and I have no idea how I could ever begin to thank every one or repay them for their kindness.”
As of Wednesday morning, GoFundMe had deactivated the page. Its terms and conditions state the site cannot be used to raise money for “the defense or support of anyone alleged to be involved in criminal activity.”
In response, the FOP said on its site, “Anyone wishing to donate to the (James Van Dyke) Bond Fund may do so at any of the four locations of the Chicago Patrolmens’ Federal Credit Union.”
Herbert, Van Dyke’s attorney, has said his client “truly was in fear for his life, as well as the lives of his fellow officers.” He further said that McDonald had already “punctured a tire on a police car” when Van Dyke encountered him.
“At the point which my client confronted Mr. McDonald, my client was aware of the fact that the individual (McDonald) had not complied with numerous police orders to drop the knife,” Herbert said.
While those watching the tape will have “the brilliance and benefit” of hindsight, the case should be tried in a courtroom, not in the media or the streets, he told reporters Tuesday.
“This is not a murder case, despite what you heard in the courtroom. It’s truly not a murder case, and we feel that we will be very successful in defending this case,” the attorney said.
CNN’s Kimberly Hutcherson, Greg Botelho, Bill Kirkos, Ashley Fantz, Dana Ford and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.