Jason Van Dyke’s lawyers protest protesters at court hearings

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Jason Van Dyke approaches the bench in a hearing on his case. Former police officr Jason Van Dyke who is indicted for 1st degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald is presided by Judge Vincent Gaughan at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building Thursday April 20, 2017. | Nancy Stone |Pool photo | Chicago Tribune

Cook County sheriff’s deputies walked Jason Van Dyke out of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Thursday, after his lawyers complained to a judge about protesters harassing the Chicago Police officer during his court appearances.

The angry crowds that greeted Van Dyke ahead of his nearly monthly court visits had dwindled in the weeks since he first was charged in 2015 with murder in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald.

But on Thursday, lawyers for Van Dyke told Judge Vincent Gaughan that a protester had accosted Van Dyke with a sign that read “16 shots” — a reference to the number of bullets Van Dyke fired at McDonald in October 2014 — as the officer entered the courthouse last month.

Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, said he was filing a motion asking Gaughan to allow Van Dyke to stay home for future hearings in the case or to have an entrance that would allow him to avoid protesters.

Herbert had made a similar request months ago, when Van Dyke was consistently drawing demonstrators.

Gaughan, who has kept a tight rein on proceedings in the case, had not ruled on that motion, and took no action Thursday other than delivering a short speech in the courtroom, addressing spectators before starting the hearing.

After spending 30 minutes in chambers with lawyers for both sides, the judge gave another, longer admonishment to the public.

“Anybody compelled to come to a courtroom should not run a [gantlet] where they’re insulted or intimidated, or even threatened,” Gaughan said after he returned to the bench. “It’s a violation of, just, civility and it’s a violation of being a human being. No matter what anybody’s charged with, or no matter what anybody’s done, they should not be compelled to undergo some type of harassment.”

But Carolyn Ruff said she missed the judge’s lecture. As Van Dyke walked out of the courtroom flanked by six sheriff’s deputies, Ruff held up a index card-size, handwritten sign that read “16 shots” and held it toward Van Dyke as he headed toward an elevator.

Four deputies walked Van Dyke and his father to the parkway on South California Street, without incident.

Deputies also led Ruff back to court, where she received a stern rebuke from the judge, and was led out of the courthouse.

“It was really, really small. Couldn’t nobody really see it,” Ruff said of her sign outside the courthouse.

She said she wasn’t trying to intimidate Van Dyke.

“I didn’t mean anything by Jason Van Dyke, because he’s history to us,” Ruff said. “Laquan McDonald will always be in our heart.”

The hearing also covered more routine matters. At a hearing last month, prosecutors unsealed a new indictment against Van Dyke, keeping the first-degree murder charge for McDonald’s killing, and adding a count of aggravated battery for each of the 16 shots that struck the 17-year-old.

Van Dyke’s lawyers had claimed that former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez rushed to charge Van Dyke ahead of the release of video, which showed the veteran officer pumping bullets into McDonald, whom Van Dyke had claimed was turning as if to throw a knife at police who were following him in the 4100 block of South Pulaski.

Alvarez lost her bid for re-election, and Van Dyke’s case was turned over to special prosecutor Joe McMahon, the Kane County state’s attorney.

Grand jurors who heard evidence used to win charges against Van Dyke did not hear key evidence that might have cleared the officer, and Herbert apparently renewed that claim with a motion to dismiss the superseding indictment.

Copies of the documents filed Thursday were not immediately available, but Herbert told Gaughan that prosecutors again presented evidence to the grand jury in a “false and misleading manner.”

Herbert said jurors weren’t told that McDonald had PCP in his system; had waved a knife at a man who interrupted McDonald as the teen broke into trucks; and that McDonald had stabbed the tire and windshield on a police SUV while police followed him, before Van Dyke and his partner arrived.

Grand jurors also weren’t told about state laws that authorize police officers to use deadly force, Herbert said.

“There is a law out there . . . that allows police officers to use force, including deadly force, in certain situations,” Herbert said. “That law has been concealed at every stage of this investigation.”

After meeting with attorneys in chambers, Gaughan hinted that he was anticipating continuing concerns about the intense public interest in Van Dyke’s case.

Though the case has not yet been set for trial, Gaughan said he would review jury questionnaires used in the “Jennifer Hudson massacre trial and the Brown’s Chicken” — presumably references to the 2012 trial of Hudson’s brother in-law, William Balfour, for the murder of Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew, and to the trials of Juan Luna and James Degorski for the murder of seven employees inside a Palatine Brown’s Chicken restaurant in 1993.

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