For nearly three years, the phrase “16 shots” has been cemented in the public’s mind with the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.
But only one of those shots mattered, a pathologist testified Monday as Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s defense got underway.
Van Dyke’s defense led off with Dr. Shaku Teas, who testified that a shot that tore through the right side of the 17-year-old’s chest and severed his pulmonary artery caused McDonald to die, likely within one to five minutes.
“It is my opinion that this is the one that caused Laquan to die so rapidly,” she said.
She called the remaining 15 shots “totally immaterial.”
Teas’ testimony was aimed to bolster the continued emphasis by the defense that the first few shots killed McDonald.
The defense also started their efforts to show that McDonald was dangerous and willing to fight with law enforcement. Three guards from the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center testified about wrestling with an agitated McDonald during his periodic stays in custody.
But the focus of the day’s defense was on Teas, who made the claim that virtually every bullet that hit McDonald was when he was upright or spinning to the ground, not on the ground itself —which appears to be contradicted by the police dashcam video of the shooting.
Teas, who formerly worked at the Cook County medical examiner’s office, was unequivocal in her appraisal of the multiple wounds inflicted when Van Dyke shot McDonald the night of Oct. 20, 2014, and unstinting in her critique of the work of her former colleagues, attacking everything from the choice of the pathologist who did the autopsy, to the decision not to dissect wounds to trace the paths of bullets.
Defense attorney Dan Herbert nodded approvingly from his seat as Teas continued with that criticism under cross-examination as she sparred over when McDonald actually died.
Prosecutors argue McDonald died at the hospital. Teas at one point insisted McDonald was in the “process of dying” at the scene, even though he was still breathing and had a pulse when paramedics arrived.
Teas’ testimony in many places directly contradicted Cook County Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar, who testified last week for the prosecution that each wound McDonald suffered, even those that struck him in the arms and thigh, contributed to the blood loss that killed him.
Teas’ willingness to speculate about the position of McDonald’s body when he was hit by each shot was in sharp contrast to Arunkumar’s more circumspect testimony last week. But the notion that McDonald was on his feet for more than a few of the first shots would seem to contradict the dashcam video of the shooting and testimony last week from a prosecution ballistics expert.
On the dashcam video, McDonald falls to the ground in a little more than second after the first shot. During testimony from an FBI ballistics expert last week, the prosecution played video of an FBI firearms expert managing to fire 16 shots at a human-sized target in about four seconds. A less-skilled shooter took nearly six seconds.
The defense Monday also called three juvenile jail guards, each of who described scuffles with McDonald during three times the teen was taken into custody after a court hearing, with the most recent incident coming almost a year before McDonald was shot. The testimony is intended to bolster Van Dyke’s claims he shot McDonald in self-defense, by showing the teen had violent tendencies.
In one incident in January 2014, McDonald told guard Miguel DeJesus that he was “on the leaf,” meaning, according to DeJesus, that McDonald had used the drug PCP, which was found in McDonald’s system when he was autopsied. DeJesus advised a superior he wanted McDonald left alone in a holding cell, but McDonald was put in a room with 15 other kids, and the teen immediately headed toward DeJesus and took a swing at him. DeJesus said he threw McDonald against a wall before other guards came and handcuffed the teen.