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Ex-Chicago police officer avoids federal charges in Laquan McDonald's death

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Federal authorities in Chicago say an ex-police officer who was convicted and served time for killing a Black teenager in 2014 will not face federal charges. The former officer, who is white, spent about three years in prison after a jury in state court found him guilty of second-degree murder and other charges. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Jason Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times as the teenager, who had a knife, was walking away from police. A year later, the release of a graphic dashcam video that captured the shooting sparked massive protests. It also led to a guilty verdict for Van Dyke on charges of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. In a statement, U.S. Attorney John Lausch said his office would not file charges. He said the federal government would have a high bar to clear and a second trial could diminish the important results already achieved. The decision was expected, says Ron Safer, a former federal prosecutor.

RON SAFER: They looked into whether or not to bring charges many years ago before the state court charges were brought.

CORLEY: The U.S. attorney's office said the decision not to pursue federal charges came after consulting with the family. Marvin Hunter, Laquan McDonald's great-uncle, a spokesperson for the family, says he opposed a federal trial. He insisted to NPR after Van Dyke's early release that the former police officer's conviction was a major victory.

MARVIN HUNTER: We were trying to reset the vow of justice in America with this case and set a precedent, of which we truly did because before Jason Van Dyke, families across this country were not getting justice in any kind of way, shape, form or fashion.

CORLEY: Van Dyke was the first Chicago officer to be convicted for an on-duty police shooting in a half-century. The case led to a consent decree, which requires Chicago police to make reforms.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.