(NBC) — The white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times was convicted of murder Friday in a case that ignited protests throughout the city.
Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder for the fatal October 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17.
Jason Van Dyke faced charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery, and official misconduct after killing McDonald when responding to a report of someone breaking into vehicles.
The deadly encounter unfolded when officers came upon McDonald, who had a knife, and called for an officer with a Taser to respond to the scene. Before that officer could arrive, Van Dyke opened fire and shot McDonald.
Dashcam footage of the shooting released a year later showed McDonald walking away from the officers when Van Dyke opened fire and continued to shoot at the teen, even when he was already on the ground. The video unleashed a series of mass protests and citywide unrest.
Officials in Chicago were bracing for potential unrest after the verdict. Some schools were making plans for early dismissals, lockdowns or recess indoors, reported the Chicago Tribune.
“This is an emotional time for our city, and many activists are calling for people to take to the streets regardless of the outcome of the trial,” wrote Principal Brianna Latko of St. Ignatius College Prep, a private school in downtown Chicago, in a letter, according to the newspaper. “Should this occur, it may create potentially dangerous situations around the city.”
Jurors just started deliberating on Thursday afternoon. Van Dyke took the stand in his own defense in a dramatic courtroom moment Tuesday, where he said McDonald was “advancing” toward him and would not drop the knife he was holding.
“He got right about 10 to 15 feet away from me,” Van Dyke said in his testimony, his eyes filling with tears.
“We never lost eye contact, his eyes were bugging out, his face was just expressionless,” Van Dyke said. “He turned his torso towards me. He waved the knife from his lower right side upwards across his body towards my left shoulder.”
“I shot him,” he said.
The prosecution quickly countered that Van Dyke’s account was not corroborated by video evidence of the shooting.
In their closing arguments, the prosecution said Van Dyke could have taken many other actions, but in the end chose to use deadly force without justification.
“We’re here because Jason Van Dyke didn’t value the life of Laquan McDonald enough to do anything but shoot him,” Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon said.
“Jason Van Dyke chose to ignore all of his other options. He made the decision to use deadly force,” he added.
They also said he had exaggerated McDonald’s actions that night to justify the fatal shooting.
Meanwhile, defense attorney Dan Herbert said Van Dyke was justified in his use of force and the death was a “tragedy, but not a murder.”
“It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented with one simple step,” he said. “At any point throughout that 20-some-minute rampage, had Laquan McDonald dropped that knife, he’d be here today.”
Herbert added that the video evidence did not show the full picture of the night’s events.
“It shows a perspective, but not the right perspective,” he said.
The shooting sparked a probe from the Justice Department that found deep-rooted systemic civil rights violations by Chicago’s police department and prompted the release of a plan with far-reaching police reforms.
One current and two former Chicago police officers were charged last June with state felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct for allegedly helping to cover up for Van Dyke.