Jason Van Dyke’s family also in the dark as his release from prison nears

Little is being said about the upcoming release of the Chicago police officer who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald to death in 2014.

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Jason Van Dyke enters the courtroom for his sentencing Jan. 18, 2019.

Jason Van Dyke enters the courtroom for his sentencing Jan. 18, 2019.

Sun-Times file

It is the story of two families mired in tragedy.

One is African American, whose 17-year-old grandson’s brief life of mental struggle and teenage trouble was cut short by the rapid fire of a Chicago police officer’s gun.

The other is a white police officer’s family that lost a husband, son and father of two daughters into the confinement of a federal prison after he shot this teenager 16 times while responding to reports of an unsteady, threatening young man wielding a knife.

This Thursday, one family is expecting their loved one to come home.


Laquan McDonald’s grandmother, Tracey Hunter, speaks about her grandson’s death during a press conference at Rainbow PUSH Coalition at 930 E. 50th St in Kenwood, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The other, Laquan McDonald, never will.

The deadly encounter on that dark October night in 2014 resulted in former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke being found guilty in 2018 of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.

He was sentenced to six years in prison and will be released after serving a little more than three years for killing McDonald.

Chicago’s version of this Shakespearean tragedy is sunk deep in the detritus of a city torn by racism, violence, gang crime and poverty pulverizing its South and West Side communities.

It is also the tale of a police community that takes the oath of heroes to serve and protect — and is now struggling with reform, riots, recrimination and a street cop’s version of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Soon it will be the story of how a war-torn city deals with Van Dyke’s homecoming.

Van Dyke’s family remains silent

Since news broke of “Jay’s” imminent prison release, the Van Dyke family has remained silent.

Sneed is told they know little about Van Dyke’s safety shuttle between prisons since being attacked by other inmates shortly after he was jailed in 2018.


Tiffany Van Dyke, wife of former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, speaks during a press conference in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Van Dyke’s wife, Tiffany, who was precluded from seeing her husband in jail during the COVID-19 pandemic, has remained devoted to her husband and spoke to him recently, a source tells Sneed.

Tiffany, who was publicly supportive of her husband during his trial, has also chosen silence pending his upcoming prison release.

But in an exclusive interview with Sneed during the 2018 trial, Tiffany was bracing for a possible volatile aftermath.

”I’d like to say I can handle anything that comes,” she said then.

“Life still would go on. I would like to think I would try my hardest to move forward whatever the verdict is,” she said. “And I’ll still have to raise my two children,” she added — including one who felt stigmatized by some classmates back then.

“I’m doing OK as of right now, and hopefully there will be justice out there for my husband.

“I go from being in husband mode to kids mode, and then there is the prayer mode.”

Later, she stated: “I pray for my husband and my children and the city and the McDonald family and for all the other people in blue — the police officers — to stay safe.”

Tiffany had planned to use the frequent flyer miles sent by well-wishers following the verdict to visit her husband in prison.

Since then, visits have been rare since threats to Van Dyke’s safety sent him into solitary confinement at various prisons.


Keith Thompson, Jason Van Dyke’s brother-in-law, testifies at Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 in Chicago.

Sun-Times files

Back then Keith Thompson, Van Dyke’s African American brother-in-law, spoke out in support of the guy he calls “Jay” in an attempt to counter the claim Van Dyke killed McDonald because he was racist. He has since remained quiet in suburbia.

“We have maintained our silence up till now at Jason’s request,” Thompson said during the trial back then. “He was concerned for our safety.”

“We may be a biracial family, but we are a blended family, a close family,” Thompson told Sneed in a late-night exclusive phone interview in 2018. “Although I’m an only child, this guy has become my brother, the only one I’ve ever had.”

“We keep our curtains drawn and have gone off the social grid,” he said then. “We are so aware of the hate that’s out there since the shooting happened.”

But Thompson said he and his wife were fully aware of the agony the McDonald family has suffered.

“We are all hurting,” he said. “The McDonald family is also in our prayers.”

This past Thursday, McDonald’s relatives held a news conference demanding federal civil rights charges be filed against Van Dyke. It followed in the wake of an earlier call for such charges by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.

McDonald’s grandmother, Tracey Hunter, called Van Dyke’s sentence “a slap on the wrist” compared to the 22-year sentence given to the Minneapolis policeman who killed George Floyd.

This is a story that has yet to have an ending.

The nightmare of justice denied versus justice served.

The kind that could divide a city in a country already divided.

Let’s get a grip, Chicago. This has already been a tragedy for everyone involved.

Sneedlings ...

Saturday birthdays: Heather Graham, 52; Oprah Winfrey, 68; Tom Selleck, 77. Sunday birthdays: Christian Bale, 48; King Abdullah II, 60; Phil Collins, 71.

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