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Defense doesn’t want Jason Van Dyke murder trial to open with dashcam video

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke attends a hearing Friday. | Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune | Pool photo

Grainy dashboard camera video of Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at Laquan McDonald is likely the most powerful evidence that Cook County prosecutors will have when the Chicago police officer goes to trial for murder next month.

But Van Dyke’s lawyers don’t want the images to be the first thing jurors see, according to a motion filed Friday.

Defense lawyers said a PowerPoint presentation that Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon will play for jurors during his opening statements includes the dashboard camera footage.

The defense, which makes no assertion the video couldn’t be played during the trial, argued that it just shouldn’t be allowed to set the tone for the rest of the proceedings.

“The videos that the state seeks to use during opening statements would prejudice Mr. Van Dyke in the eyes of the jury,” the motion said. “The (video’s) only purpose is to arouse the sympathies of the jury.”

In this image from an Oct. 20, 2014, police dashcam video, Laquan McDonald (right), walks down the street moments before being shot 16 times and killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke. | Chicago Police Department
In this Oct. 20, 2014 frame from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald (right), walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by CPD officer Jason Van Dyke sixteen times in Chicago. | Chicago Police Department via AP File

The filing was among several filed Friday regarding evidence for the trial, which is set to begin Sept. 5.

Prosecutors sought to block Van Dyke’s lawyers questioning other officers who were at the scene, about whether or not they thought the shooting was justified, as well as barring mention of changes to Chicago police training and policies. They also want to stop the defense from entering McDonald’s school records into the record at trial.

Van Dyke’s lawyers also filed a brief outlining relevant case law on police officers’ use of deadly force. Broadly, officers can use deadly force when they are threatened, or when pursuing a fleeing suspect in a “forcible felony” that poses a danger to others, the filing states.

That broad category of crimes includes five felonies Van Dyke’s lawyers say McDonald committed before Van Dyke opened fire. First were the truck break-ins McDonald had been reported committing when police were dispatched to the Archer Heights neighborhood the night of Oct. 20, 2014. Other felony offenses followed, Van Dyke’s lawyers state: aggravated battery of a police officer and criminal damage to property, when McDonald stabbed the tire and windshield of the first police cruiser he encountered; unlawful use of a weapon, for carrying a knife through the neighborhood, and within 1,000 feet of a bus stop.

Van Dyke would have known about the potential offenses, based on scanner traffic when he and his partner arrived at the intersection of 44th and Pulaski, the defense said,

“Mr. Van Dyke and his partner exited their marked Chicago Police vehicle, both with their service weapons drawn,” the motion states. “Multiple commands were given to Mr. McDonald to stop and drop the knife to no avail. Rather than heed to lawful verbal commands, Mr. McDonald continued down Pulaski with his knife in hand, posing a danger. Clearly, Mr. McDonald was trying to flee to avoid being lawfully arrested.”