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Man faces federal charges for alleged threats to Jason Van Dyke, his family

Cook County's Leighton Criminal Court building. | Sun-Times files

A federal indictment made public Thursday alleges a Southwest Side man threatened the lives of Jason Van Dyke and his family in a slew of social media posts during the Chicago police officer’s trial in the shooting death of teenager Laquan McDonald.

The indictment filed last week in U.S. District Court charged 32-year-old Matthew Ross, of the Ashburn community, with three counts of making online threats. Ross faces anything between a fine to a maximum of five years in prison on each of the three charges.

Ross was originally arrested in October in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building when he showed up to attend closing arguments in Van Dyke’s trial. Ross was charged with two misdemeanors and released by a Cook County judge on a personal recognizance bond. The charges were dismissed at his next court hearing in November, court records show.

Two months later, federal authorities are hitting Ross with charges alleging he began making threats in August in the lead-up to Van Dyke’s trial.

In the first message noted in the indictment, Ross allegedly wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 7, “SO IF I GOT A HIT SQUAD TOGETHER TO SHOOT 70 FAMILY MEMBERS OF CPD OFFICERS THIS WEEKEND…..THEY’LL BE NO SUSPECTS MONDAY MORNING?? #GETTHESTRAP FREE YOUR SOUL!!!”

Ten days later, Ross posted, “CHICAGO POLICE’S WIVES & CHILDREN NEED TO BE SHOT!! GOOD NIGHT FREE YOUR SOUL!!” according to the federal indictment.

Matthew Ross | Facebook photo
Matthew Ross | Facebook photo

After the start of jury selection in the trial, the indictment alleges Ross posted a photo of one of Van Dyke’s relatives along with the caption, “OUR WOMEN AND CHILDREN AREN’T OFF LIMITS FOR THEM….SO THEIRS AREN’T FOR US!!”

On Oct. 2, the same day Van Dyke took the stand at his trial in his own defense, Ross made five threatening posts in less than two hours, according to the indictment. In one of the posts, Ross allegedly said, “JUST SHOOT UP THE WHOLE COURTROOM!! FREE YOUR SOUL!!!” In another, he posted, “MT. GREENWOOD, MIDWAY, ALL COP NEIGHBORHOODS, WE BEATIN YA’LL KIDS & WIVES ASS IF VAN DYKE GETS OFF!!” according to the indictment.

Ross also called for burning down Navy Pier and “EVERY ALDERMAN’S OFFICE,” the indictment alleges.

Though he had attended previous hearings during the trial, Ross was flagged by authorities once his posts were discovered ahead of his arrest at the courthouse, police said at the time.

Ross is a Firearm Owners Identification card holder, and a browse through his Facebook profile shows several photos of him posing with weapons, but Ross wasn’t armed when he was taken into custody, police said.

Ross told the Chicago Sun-Times two days after his original arrest that he regretted posting the messages to social media and didn’t expect them to reach an audience outside of his own network. The messages, which were deleted by Facebook, were saved by others and spread around social media during the Van Dyke’s trial.

“It was posted in the heat of the moment just going back and forth with that community,” Ross said of his online sparring with supporters of Van Dyke. “They’ve been posting threats to activists as well. I’ve gotten death threats.”

A court records search showed Ross has no publishable criminal background in Cook County.