Van Dyke watches fellow officers downplay McDonald threat on first day of trial

SHARE Van Dyke watches fellow officers downplay McDonald threat on first day of trial

Chicago Police Officer Joseph McElligott during his testimony at the Jason Van Dyke trial. | Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune pool file photo

Jason Van Dyke’s lawyers told jurors Monday that Laquan McDonald was on a “wild rampage” through the city the night he died.

But twice, as testimony got underway in the Chicago police officer’s murder trial, Van Dyke watched as a fellow officer said the threat McDonald posed on Oct. 20, 2014, did not prompt them to use deadly force.

One even contradicted a previous claim that McDonald raised his arm toward Van Dyke “as if attacking” Van Dyke. Assistant Special Prosecutor Dan Weiler asked Officer Dora Fontaine on Monday if she saw McDonald “raise his arm as if he was attempting to stab anyone.”

Fontaine said simply “no.”

The comments from the two officers were among the more striking moments on the first day of evidence in the trial — a trial that has few surprises to yield given the years of intense scrutiny of the shooting — and could be damaging to Van Dyke.

Joseph McElligott, a 17-year CPD veteran, took the stand first. He said he and his partner, Thomas Gaffney, answered a 911 call at 40th and Kildare. They found McDonald around the corner on 40th.

“I exited the vehicle and told him to show me your hands,” McElligott said.

McElligott said McDonald, who was 15 feet away from him, “took his hands out of his pockets. And in his right hand, he had a knife.” McElligott alerted Gaffney and pulled his weapon, but then he simply followed McDonald on foot. Meanwhile, he said Gaffney called for a Taser and followed in their Chevy Tahoe.

McElligott said McDonald “seemed really out of it.” McDonald also stabbed the tire of the Tahoe and slashed at the windshield.

McElligott told jurors Monday that “we were trying to buy time to have a Taser.”

“He didn’t make any direct movement at me,” McElligott said. “And I felt like my partner was protected for the most part.”

McDonald eventually darted away from McElligott, and McElligott wound up stopping traffic on Pulaski while other officers continued the pursuit. He said he heard “at least” 10 shots when Van Dyke opened fire.

Defense attorney Randy Rueckert challenged McElligott, noting that McDonald ran away toward a Burger King where there were trucks and people. Rueckert asked McElligott whether he thought he could open fire in that direction.

“Yeah, it wouldn’t be smart,” McElligott said.

McElligott’s partner, Gaffney, was later indicted for allegedly helping cover up misconduct connected to the shooting.

Fontaine took the stand Monday afternoon, testifying under a grant of use immunity. She was among four officers Supt. Eddie Johnson moved to discipline — rather than fire — in 2016 for alleged misconduct connected to the McDonald shooting. She told jurors she was essentially on desk duty.

In reports following the shooting, Fontaine was to have alleged that McDonald raised his arm toward Van Dyke “as if attacking” Van Dyke.

On Monday, Fontaine told jurors when she got to the scene, she said she saw McDonald “swaying a knife” and heard him being told to “drop the knife, drop the knife.”

But she said McDonald did not act aggressively before he was shot.

Weiler, the prosecutor, asked Fontaine if she saw McDonald try to stab anyone. She said no. So Weiler continued.

“Did you see him attack anyone?” Weiler asked.

“No,” Fontaine said.

“Did you see him make any aggressive movements at all?” Weiler asked.

“Besides swaying,” Fontaine said, “no.”

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