The Star Tribune reported on September 17, 2018 that a video of the last moments of 17-year old Laquan McDonald’s life is a key piece of evidence in the trial of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The trial is taking place in Chicago, after the trial judge refused a defense motion to remove the trial to another venue due to pretrial publicity. The video was released in 2015. The shooting occurred on October 20, 2014.
According to the Star Tribune story, the video shows the police officer shooting 16 bullets into the teenager as he walked away from police officers. Officers at the scene initially claimed that Laquan had lunged at them with a knife. Officer Van Dyke had stopped his squad car. Shortly thereafter, he started shooting.
The jurors watched the video repeatedly during the first day of the trial. Most jurors admitted during their selection as jurors that they had already seen the video.
The prosecution’s case included the following observations and arguments:
- No other officer opened fire.
- Officer Dora Fontaine said the puffs of smoke on the video were “smoke that she saw when bullets struck” the teen.
- That none of the 16 shots, according to special prosecutor Joseph McMahon were “necessary or justified.”
- Officer Fontaine “testified that she never saw McDonald attack any officers, charge officers or even raise his arm.”
Daniel Herbert, Officer Van Dyke’s defense lawyer, argued that the police officer feared for his life and those of others. He argued the number of shots wasn’t material provided the initial shot was justified. The defense lawyer “painted a picture of McDonald as a crazed teenager who had attacked a truck driver and a squad car and had tried to get into two restaurants. He said McDonald had flicked his folding knife open when Van Dyke pulled up.”
PCP, a hallucinogenic drug, was found in the teen’s body after the shooting took place. Officer Fontaine was granted immunity in order to testify. Some of the officers at the scene were charged with filing false reports. Joseph McElligott, another officer, testified that he didn’t think Officer Van Dyke was in danger and that “they were waiting for an officer to arrive with a Taser to use on McDonald.” Under cross-examination, officer McElligott did say that that the teenager’s “later actions had increased the threat level.”
Police brutality cases in Chicago
The case before the jury is a criminal case. Regardless of the outcome, the family of the teenager likely has the right to file a police brutality claim against Officer Van Dyke. While police officers have the right to protect themselves, they must also respect the due process rights of citizens. The use of excessive or illegal force can entitle the victim or the family of deceased victims to file a civil rights lawsuit based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In addition to filing a claim against the officer, the Chicago police department and city of Chicago could also be named as defendants.
The police and the government entities that employ them must respect your rights. Law enforcement can’t cross the public safety line if it means violating your Constitutional rights. At Gainsberg Law, our Chicago police brutality lawyers hold police and the government liable for racial profiling, false arrests, illegal searches, sexual abuse, and other types of misconduct. To learn if you have case for police brutality, please phone us now at 312-600-9585 or send us a request for an appointment through our contact form.