EXCLUSIVE: Commander who once met Jason Van Dyke says he didn’t cause problems

SHARE EXCLUSIVE: Commander who once met Jason Van Dyke says he didn’t cause problems

Commander Ed O’Donnell (front center) and others from the Cold Case Unit talk in 2008 about solving a 17-year-old case. | Sun-Times file photo

Sneed exclusive . . .

Retired Chicago Police Cmdr.Ed O’Donnell was Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke’sboss when he was head of CPD’s Targeted Response Unit.

Yet, the two never crossed paths until a day three years ago when O’Donnell, who retired in 2010, was teaching a class for police lieutenants at the Fraternal Order of Police hall.

Setting up the room for O’Donnell’s class that day was Van Dyke, now working as a janitor, the result of one night in October 2014 that changed his life and the Chicago Police Department forever.

It was the night Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald16 times in what then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez claimed was the first time a Chicago police officer was charged with murder for an on-duty shooting.


A judicial gag order has prevented Chicago police officers from talking about the Van Dyke case, but O’Donnell, now a retiree, wanted to say a few words about Van Dyke in an exclusive interview with Sneed.

“I didn’t know Jason personally back when I was running the Targeted Police Unit and in charge of nearly 300 men and women,” said O’Donnell.

“Our job was to respond en masse in high-crime areas, primarily on the South and West sides, to prevent retaliation by gangs after homicides and shootings,” he said.

“Police officers like Jason saturated the high-crime areas, were closely supervised, and would not be picked if they had a disciplinary history,” he said.

“But I can tell you Jason was no problem or some volatile, crazy cop or disciplinary nightmare,” he added.

“I would have been aware if he had been an overly aggressive police officer. The report would have come to me.

“It’s unbelievable how life can change in the blink of an eye,” said O’Donnell.

RELATED In key decision, Van Dyke will have jurors — not judge — decide his fate What you need to know about the Jason Van Dyke murder trial Sheriff releases spectator sign-up requirements for Van Dyke trial

O’Donnell, who has seen the McDonald video on TV news, tells Sneed: “Every officer responds to a scene or a stairwell of a CHA building with lights out never knowing how they will respond.

“It’s always a split-second decision,” he said. “But you have to make a decision. It’s difficult to be in another’s shoes. Officers on the scene come to help, not hurt. But you never know what will happen when you get there. This is not a detective/patrol/tactical team TV show. It’s for real.

“Police have developed an instinct for the street being on the street. They know when something is kinky. It’s hard to act on the sixth sense now. It’s a tougher job nowadays . . . respect is gone off the street.

“Officers coming in now know what the rules are because of the consent decree. It’s just harder on the guys who have been on the street longer.”

It was about three years ago when O’Donnell actually met Van Dyke.

“I spotted this guy who looked like a janitor. He’d come on Saturday mornings to open up the door to the FOP hall and set up table and chairs before I’d begin teaching my class,” said O’Donnell. “He was very quiet, and then protesters started showing up.

“It didn’t take long to figure out who he was.

“I apologized for not recognizing him. He was soft-spoken, meek. Embarrassed. Very concerned about his family’s safety.

“I’m making no judgments here, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for the jurors who have to deal with the protesters. I want the jury to make their own decision and not be intimidated. Let them make their own decision based on the evidence and without outside pressure.”


Criminal Court Judge Vincent“I can sometimes be ornery” Gaughan, who will oversee the Van Dyke trial, was not impervious to the complaints from female reporters there was no toilet paper in their bathroom on the fifth floor of the Criminal Court Building.

At last peek, Gaughan had requested a roll of toilet paper be delivered to the ladies room.

The Murray file . . .

Actor Bill Murray, who hails from Wilmette, was a 9 p.m. walk-in Thursday night to Winnetka’s pride, Restaurant Michael, where Chef Michael Lachowicz presides. Murray dined with his sister and her husband, talked with Lachowicz about his old caddy days at Indian Hill Club, and claimed Michael’s French comfort food paradise was once known as “Mary’s Cupboard.”

There ya go!

Bill Murray with Chef Michael Lachowicz on Thursday night at Restaurant Michael in Winnetka. | Provided photo

Bill Murray with Chef Michael Lachowicz on Thursday night at Restaurant Michael in Winnetka. | Provided photo

Sneedlings . . .

I spy:Actresses Nicole Ari Parker and Tisha Campbell at Lux Bar on Wednesday. . . . Today’s birthdays: Prince Harry,34; Tommy Lee Jones,72; and Dan Marino, 57. . . . Sunday’s birthdays: Nick Jonas,26; Amy Poehler, 47; and Marc Anthony, 50.

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