By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Lawyers for Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Black teen Laquan McDonald in 2014, asked a Cook County judge on January 10 to dismiss the charges against Van Dyke.
Attorney Daniel Herbert argued that statements made by Van Dyke and other officers, which were used by prosecutors to bring charges in the case, are inadmissible in court. Van Dyke made statements to the Independent Police Review Authority and to the city’s Inspector General. Herbert argued in a three-page filing that “Garrity Rights” offer protections to public employees so they do not incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews conducted by their employers.
“The statements were given under duress and are protected by the immunity,” read a part of the motion filed by Herbert.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan did not issue a ruling on the matter. Instead he said it will be addressed at the next hearing, scheduled for February 3. Van Dyke did not attend the hearing himself. His lawyers claim he and his family have received death threats since the case became public last year.
The video of Van Dyke shooting McDonald, who was walking away from the officer with a knife in his hand, was not released until a year after the shooting, after a judge ordered the city to do so. The video’s release caused months of protests in the city, along with calls for the resignation of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and several city council members who signed off on a multimillion dollar settlement with the McDonald family.
Former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was also accused of not doing her job, because she did not levy charges against McDonald until after the video was made public. Alvarez was voted out of office last year, losing to Kim Foxx, an opponent who promised during the campaign that she and her office will prosecute officers who do wrong.
Attorneys for Van Dyke also asked Gaughan to give them the juvenile records of Laquan McDonald. Requests made on two previous occasions for the records were denied by another judge.
McDonald was a troubled teen, who on the fateful October night in 2014, was seen slashing car tires with a knife and behaving erratically in the area of 47th and Pulaski, according to witnesses who called the police. When officers arrived they chased McDonald on foot and then eventually followed him a few blocks south on Pulaski Street from their squad cars, and on foot. Nearly a dozen officers were on the scene when Van Dyke and his partner arrived.
Van Dyke jumped from the passenger’s seat with his gun drawn and within a few seconds began firing over a dozen rounds into McDonald’s body, as seen on the video. He continued to fire even after McDonald was on the ground, helpless and writhing in pain. No other officers fired a shot during the incident. A total of 16 shots were fired at McDonald by Van Dyke.
However, many other officers were disciplined in the case, which has drawn national outrage. One officer resigned; two others retired. According to the city, five are in the process of being fired, including Van Dyke. The city said the officers made false statements in the case
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson filed administrative charges against Officers Van Dyke, Janet Mondragon, Daphne Sebastian, Ricardo Viramontes and Sgt. Stephen Franko back in August. Their cases will be heard by the Chicago Police Board, which will rule as to whether or not the officers will be terminated.
On December 23, 2016, city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson recommended that four additional officers be disciplined in the case, bringing the total number to 15. The names of the latest four officers were not made public, but police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said none of them were recommended to be fired, although Supt. Johnson could still elect to do so. The CPD has 30 days to respond to the recommendation.
President Barack Obama, who ironically was in town to give his farewell speech to the nation on the same day Van Dyke’s lawyers filed the motion, ordered the Justice Department to do an investigation into the city’s police department in the wake of the McDonald case. Justice Department findings are expected to be released before the President leaves office on Jan. 20.