CHICAGO — A white Chicago police officer charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald pleaded not guilty today.
Jason Van Dyke is “hanging in there” and wants to tell his side of what happened so he’s not seen “as this cold-blooded killer”, defence attorney Dan Herbert said after the court hearing. Herbert added that they had not ruled out asking for a change of venue. The case is in Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago where demonstrators have staged marches protesting the shooting and how it has been handled.
Van Dyke, 37, faces six counts of first-degree murder and one of official misconduct in the death of 17-year-old McDonald. The officer, wearing a dark suit and blue striped tie, appeared in court today as his lawyer entered the plea on his behalf.
Cook County prosecutors were not available for comment after the arraignment.
Public outcry has been furious since a dashcam video was released last month showing the veteran officer shooting McDonald 16 times. The teenager, armed with a knife, was veering away from officers when Van Dyke opened fire.
The footage sparked days of street demonstrations, the forced resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and a broad federal civil rights investigation of the police department’s practices and how allegations of officer misconduct are handled.
Over the weekend, Chicago police killed two other people, a 55-year-old woman who was shot accidentally and a 19-year-old man police described as “combative” before he was shot. Both were black. Police have not released the race of the officer or officers involved and will not say how many officers fired their weapons or what the man and woman were doing before they were shot.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, under pressure from community activists to resign since the McDonald video was released, was due to return this afternoon from a family vacation
Herbert, the lawyer for Van Dyke, said policy changes in the Chicago Police Department, which Emanuel’s office had hinted at and might include more training, would be beneficial.
Van Dyke, who has been free since paying the US$150,000 required of his US$1.5 million bail, was suspended from the police force without pay after he was charged.
Following today’s hearing, Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle, called for gavel-to-gavel televised coverage of the trial. He said it would be “in the best interest of fairness and justice in this case”.
Hunter added that he and others thought there was a culture within the Cook County criminal justice system and the Chicago Police Department “where police feel comfortable with murdering African-American people”.