The maternal grandmother of slain teen Laquan McDonald said she still wants federal charges to be pressed against his shooter, former Officer Jason Van Dyke, despite U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office’s statement earlier this week saying federal prosecutors will not bring a case against the one-time cop.
Tracey Hunter, 55, McDonald’s grandmother, appeared Thursday morning at Federal Plaza in the Loop with about a dozen other activists to urge the public to still fight for federal charges against Van Dyke.
“I want justice. I want justice for my grandson, and I want justice now,” Hunter said. “I want federal charges. John Lausch, if you’re not going to do your job, you need to step down.”
Activists at the gathering called for the public to call Lausch’s office and other federal representatives to ask for federal charges.
Jason Van Dyke has already been tried and convicted in Cook County court for McDonald’s death, and federal law sets an extraordinarily high bar to prove criminal civil-rights violations in such a case — “more stringent than the state charges on which Mr. Van Dyke was convicted,” according to a statement from Lausch’s office.
“Federal prosecutors would need to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Van Dyke willfully deprived Mr. McDonald of a constitutional right,” the statement read. “To do that, prosecutors would have to prove not only that Mr. Van Dyke acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids, but also that his actions were not the result of mistake, fear, negligence, or bad judgment.”
The decision not to bring federal charges was made in consultation with McDonald’s family, according to the statement Monday.
When asked who was part of that consultation, Tracey Hunter said she and her daughter, McDonald’s mother, were not included and believed it was Laquan’s great uncle, Rev. Marvin Hunter, who she said should no longer be the spokesperson for the family.
Rev. Hunter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Tracey Hunter said she did not know about the U.S. attorney’s office’s decision until she received phone calls from reporters asking about it.
“We did not get no phone calls (from the U.S. attorney’s office) about nothing,” she said. “ … When it all boils down to it, my grandson ain’t coming back. I got to live with this for the rest of my life. My daughter has to live with this for the rest of her life.”
Hunter said when she talked to her daughter on the phone after learning of the U.S. attorney’s decision to not pursue federal charges, her daughter was silent.
“She couldn’t even talk. That’s all she could say, ‘What? What?’” she said.
Lausch’s office declined to comment on the situation Thursday.
It is rare for federal authorities to announce that they have declined to charge someone. But in the wake of Van Dyke’s release from prison after a relatively short sentence, high-profile figures such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the head of the NAACP had called on the Department of Justice to consider bringing a case that could put him back behind bars.
Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery by a Cook County jury in 2018; he spent a little more than three years behind bars for McDonald’s death before his release in February. The 2014 shooting, captured on police video, sent shock waves from neighborhood streets to the mayor’s office at City Hall when footage was released more than a year later.
Van Dyke withdrew his appeal of the Cook County conviction in fall 2020, so authorities’ decision not to charge on the federal level likely marks the end of his legal journey.
The investigation into Van Dyke’s conduct was launched as a joint probe between state and federal authorities in April 2015. Then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office charged Van Dyke with first-degree murder in state court in November of that year, while the federal investigation remained ongoing.
Federal prosecutors could not simply charge Van Dyke with murder again, the statement from federal prosecutors noted. Rather, they would have to prove that he willfully violated McDonald’s constitutional rights.
Lausch’s office stated Monday that if Van Dyke were convicted on federal charges, the federal judge would have to consider that Van Dyke had already served a prison sentence, and that he can no longer serve as a law enforcement officer.
“Given these factors, there is a significant prospect that a second prosecution would diminish the important results already achieved,” the statement read.
Van Dyke’s release from prison in February after less than four years in custody prompted many calls for federal prosecutors to charge him with civil-rights violations, or at least provide some closure regarding the federal probe that was launched after McDonald’s shooting.
The week of Van Dyke’s release, protesters including Rev. Jesse Jackson as well as Tracey Hunter crowded near Federal Plaza downtown in a demonstration calling for Van Dyke to face federal charges.
Several people who protested inside the courthouse were taken into custody and charged with misdemeanor civil contempt for violating the chief judge’s order governing demonstrations at Dirksen.