City settles lawsuit by witness to Laquan McDonald shooting who said cops pressured her to change her story

Former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke and his attorney Daniel Herbert leave the courtroom after Van Dyke’s sentencing hearing at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 in Chicago. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Benitez claimed that detectives questioned her at a nearby station for hours that night, pressuring her to change her story and even insisting the police dashboard camera video of the shooting — which later became a national symbol of Chicago police brutality — contradicted her account that McDonald posed no threat to the officers.

But unlike other witnesses at the scene, Benitez was never called to testify at Van Dyke’s 2018 jury trial on first-degree murder charges or the bench trial months later of three police officers accused of conspiring to cover up aspects of the shooting.

Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. The three other officers, meanwhile, were acquitted of all counts by Cook County Associate Judge Domenica Stephenson in a controversial ruling.

The court-ordered release of the dashcam video in November 2015 showing McDonald’s killing caused a firestorm of controversy that led to weeks of street protests and the firing of police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. It also prompted a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found the Chicago Police Department routinely violated the civil rights of citizens, particularly minorities.

The video — which was the key evidence at both criminal trials — showed the white officer open fire within six seconds of exiting his police SUV on South Pulaski Road as the black teen walked diagonally away from officers with a small knife in his hand.

With McDonald about 10 feet away, Van Dyke took a step forward and fired. McDonald spun and fell to the street, lying motionless on his side. Van Dyke took another step forward and fired again. Over the next 13 seconds, he unloaded all 16 rounds from his gun, striking McDonald in the head, chest, back and both arms and legs.

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