A father headed to the hospital with his son recalled the night four years ago when they became witnesses to an officer-involved shooting, looking on as a Chicago police officer fired a barrage of bullets into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Days after Officer Jason Van Dyke‘s murder conviction, Jose and Xavier Torres returned to the scene of the shooting to talk about their decision to fight the false narrative painted by police in the days afterward, the Chicago Tribune reported. Jose and his son said the police dashcam footage from the shooting was nothing compared to what they saw.
According to the newspaper, the Torreses took the stand last month at Van Dyke’s trial and were the only civilian eyewitnesses to testify about the deadly encounter. A jury on Friday convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery for the October 2014 shooting, marking the first time in 50 years that a Chicago police officer was convicted in an on-duty fatality.
Jose Torres remembered being angry about news reports the morning after the shooting, with a police union spokesman claiming McDonald, who was high on PCP at the time, had lunged at officers with a knife.
“I told my wife, ‘They’re lying,’” Torres said. “‘That didn’t happen.’”
Torres later reached out to the city agency in charge of investigating police shootings. He and his son Xavier then sat down with the FBI and city inspector general’s office before testifying before two separate grand juries investigating Van Dyke and an alleged cover-up by the Chicago PD. He said he didn’t hear back for months, however, and assumed it had all been “swept under the rug.”
Despite repeated warnings from family members not to get involved, the elder Torres said he knew he had to speak up.
“It took me a few days to work up the strength, the nerve to call somebody and report it,” he told The Chicago Tribune. “I couldn’t sleep. It was eating away at me and my conscience. It was killing me, and I thought if I stay quiet, then I’m part of the cover-up and I couldn’t live with myself.”
Recounting the night of the shooting, Torres said he was taking his son to the hospital for persistent flu-like symptoms a little after 10 p.m. when he pulled over twice to let police cars zoom past him. It was the third time he was forced to pull over that Torres said they came upon the police activity and spotted McDonald for the first time. He was running from a nearby Burger King.
Jose and Xavier Torres testified that they had an unobstructed view of the teen as he ran up the street. At that time, Van Dyke’s partner had driven their police SUV southbound in the northbound lane to head off McDonald.
Both recalled seeing McDonald with his hands by his side moments before shots rang out. They said officers shouted at McDonald, who turned his head in their direction as he was walking away. That’s when police opened fire, and the teen collapsed to the ground.
“As soon as I heard the gunshots, he fell,” Jose Torres said. “And then there was a pause, and as soon as he just made a move, all of a sudden it seemed like it was never going to end. It was like pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop as he was on the ground, and they just kept shooting and shooting and shooting.”
Much like the dashcam video, the father-son account of the shooting contradicted what Van Dyke claimed happened that night.
As the jury announced their guilty verdicts on Friday, Torres said he became emotional. He said he felt bad for the officer’s family, but believed strongly that the jury’s verdict was fair and just.
“He needs to serve time for what he did, but I don’t think the rest of his life,” he told the newspaper of Van Dyke. “After the first shots, he should have just ended it. That’s where I don’t feel sorry for him because he chose to continue to shoot.”