An activist who snapped his fingers during a hearing in Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder case won’t fight a contempt of court charge that landed him in jail last month, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Moises Bernal clicked his fingers in muted applause when Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled against a motion to dismiss the first-degree murder and aggravated battery charges against Van Dyke in the fatal 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.
Gaughan had deputies haul Bernal to the front of the courtroom, gave him a brief lecture and ordered him held in contempt of court.
Bernal, a teacher, spent 11 hours in jail before posting $40,000 bond.
Gaughan, who has kept a tight rein on courtroom proceedings in the high-profile Van Dyke case, scolded Bernal again at a hearing Wednesday, warning Bernal that even his muted response could have triggered chaos in the courtroom.
“When you started clicking your fingers… it’s almost like the top of Mount Everest with a snowball,” Gaughan said. “By the time it got down it could have… incited the whole courtroom.”
Bernal will likely be sentenced at a hearing on July 7, defense attorney James Fennerty said, and terms of an agreement with the judge would see the contempt conviction vacated if Bernal avoids trouble for one year.
Bernal, who teaches citizenship classes at Instituto del Progreso Latino in Little Village, is a community activist, but hasn’t been arrested at a protest in more than 20 years, Fennerty said. The arrangement to vacate the charges is similar to how many judges have handled cases in which protesters are arrested for acts of civil disobedience at public demonstrations, Fennerty said.
When Gaughan called Bernal in front of the courtroom in May , he asked Bernal why he’d come to court in the first place.
“To see a racist murderer on trial, a racist killer,” Bernal said, speaking softly and stealing a glance over his shoulder at Van Dyke.
Gaughan has demanded strict control of proceedings in the Van Dyke case, barring lawyers from talking to the media and sealing most filings from public view.
After complaints from Van Dyke’s lawyers about taunts from protesters, the judge last month adopted heightened security measures and peppers warnings about proper courtroom behavior into each hearing.