In the graphic video seen across the country Tuesday, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke levels his gun toward Laquan McDonald, an African American teen carrying a knife and veering away from the officer. Van Dyke shoots. McDonald spins, then falls to the ground as Van Dyke continues to fire every bullet in his clip - 16 shots in all.
The officer was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the Oct. 20, 2014, shooting, which prosecutors say was an "improper use of deadly force."
Van Dyke, a white 14-year veteran of Chicago's force, has been accused of misconduct 17 times before, according to data from the University of Chicago and the journalism nonprofit Invisible Institute. The database, published less than a week before the announcement that Van Dyke would be prosecuted, details tens of thousands of complaints against Chicago officers that weren't previously made public. Fewer than 5 percent of the allegations resulted in disciplinary actions for the officers; none of the complaints against Van Dyke led to a penalty.
"We don't have all of Van Dyke's complaints but ... the misconduct complaints from Van Dyke that 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," the Invisible Institute's Alison Flowers told Chicago ABC affiliate WLS.
Van Dyke joined the Chicago Police Department in 2001 and spent several years on the force's Targeted Response Unit, a citywide team that aggressively worked in neighborhoods where crime was spiking. That force was disbanded by Superintendent Garry McCarthy in 2011.
The allegations against Van Dyke include 10 complaints of excessive force, including two incidents where he allegedly used a firearm, causing injury. He was also accused of improper searches and making racially or ethnically biased remarks. Four of the allegations were proven factual, but Van Dyke's actions were deemed lawful and appropriate. In most of the other cases, there was either not enough evidence to prove or disprove the complaint or the allegation was proved unfounded.
The information in the database comes from reports spanning 2002 to 2008 and 2011 to 2015, which were released by the Chicago Police Department in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and a years-long legal battle over whether citizen complaints should be public information.
The data show that it's rare for any officers to be penalized, and white officers were half as likely as black ones to be disciplined for a complaint. More than 60 percent of allegations that resulted in discipline came from white citizens, even though they accounted for just 20 percent of complainants. (Black complainants were also much more likely to fail to file an affidavit, a necessary step in the investigation process, which may account for some of the disparity.)