Van Dyke Trial Day 15: Officers taught to ‘shoot until the threat is eliminated’

SHARE Van Dyke Trial Day 15: Officers taught to ‘shoot until the threat is eliminated’

Attorney Daniel Herbert and his client, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, listen to the judge during the trial for the killing of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building earlier this month. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

12:53 p.m. Evidence ends

12:48 p.m. Officers taught to ‘shoot until the threat is eliminated’

Jurors heard Thursday afternoon from a retired Chicago police officer who worked as a CPD firearms instructor when Officer Jason Van Dyke got his training.

Nicholas Pappas gave key defense testimony regarding how Van Dyke and other officers were taught to use deadly force.

Pappas said officers are taught to “immediately” reload a gun after a magazine is depleted.

“They were trained and drilled on that from the very beginning,” Pappas said.

Pappas also said the officers were taught that knives are deadly weapons — and can even be more deadly than a gun because they can go through a bullet-proof vest.

Finally, Pappas said officers were taught to “shoot until the threat is eliminated.”

“There’s no telling what that could be,” Pappas said. “No telling how many rounds it could take to do that.”

During cross-examination by Assistant Special Prosecutor Daniel Weiler, Pappas agreed that officers are taught not to “unnecessarily close the distance” on a threat and to use barricades and shields. He also acknowledged that officers must evaluate whether to keep shooting. One such indicator in that evaluation is “rapid collapse” — when an offender falls to the ground.

Weiler showed Pappas the dashcam video of Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting, stopping at the point when McDonald fell to the ground. Weiler then asked, “that was rapid collapse, correct?”

“He went down, yes,” Pappas said.

11:43 a.m. Expert for defense testifies McDonald was ‘whacked’ on PCP

Before cross-examination, a pharmacologist called to talk about PCP in Laquan McDonald’s system summed up the teenager’s condition at the time of his death in non-clinical terms.

“He’s whacked on this PCP,” James Thomas O’Donnell testified.

But a short time later, Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen began to pick O’Donnell’s testimony apart. O’Donnell testified for the defense that McDonald’s behavior — including claims that McDonald looked past officers trying to confront him — was “evidence of bizarre, aggressive behavior.”

On cross-examination, O’Donnell said he only knew where McDonald was looking because of the testimony of Officer Jason Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh.

“So this would be an assumption on your part?” Cullen asked.

O’Donnell acknowledged it was.

Cullen went on to ask O’Donnell about McDonald’s final moments in front of Van Dyke — not only flipping open his knife but “veering” away from officers and toward an empty fence.

“Is that what you describe as rage?” Cullen said.

O’Donnell insisted that McDonald was “still in a situation with a knife in his hand and ignoring, disobeying orders to drop the knife and still showing aggressive behavior and actions. I would describe that as violent, rage behavior.”

The trial took a lunch break when the testimony ended.

11:20 a.m. Expert says PCP can lead to aggression, ‘feeling of omnipotence’

The pharmacologist called by Officer Jason Van Dyke’s defense team Thursday morning told jurors Laquan McDonald had enough PCP in his system to cause hallucinations, delusions, aggression and violence.

Pharmacologist James Thomas O’Donnell later added that the level of PCP found in McDonald’s body, 56 ng, could lead to a “feeling of omnipotence” that can make people feel like they are “able to do anything” and “leads to significant bizarre behavior frequently described as psychotic behavior.”

He also said that amount of PCP can cause people to be “unable to talk” or “unable to form words.”

O’Donnell said a toxicology test on McDonald told him that “PCP was used within a relatively recent period” and “for certain, the day of the shooting.” He also said men under the influence of PCP are more likely to become aggressive.

11:00 a.m. Defense calls expert to testify about PCP in Laquan McDonald’s system

Jason Van Dyke’s defense attorneys called to the witness stand Thursday morning a pharmacologist they hired to study the potential effects of PCP on Laquan McDonald the night he was killed.

Cook County Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar previously told jurors that McDonald had enough of the drug in his system to cause visual disturbances, drowsiness, agitation, hallucinations, aggressiveness and other symptoms.

However, Arunkumar was called by prosecutors. Another pathologist, Shaku Teas, later testified for the defense. She said the test that revealed the PCP in McDonald’s system likely would have been diluted, meaning the true level could have been even higher.

Judge Vincent Gaughan called another recess Thursday before the pharmacologist, James Thomas O’Donnell, began the substantive portion of his testimony. The judge did so after a prosecutor objected to a PowerPoint presentation the defense hoped to show to the jury.

10:34 a.m. Woman says a ‘nice young guy’ wanted to use her car

The first witness to take the stand Thursday told jurors about a “young man” she found sitting on the outdoor steps of her home when she came home from a party. They crossed paths in the early hours of Oct. 20, 2014 — the day Laquan McDonald was killed.

Yvette Patterson said she called 911 after the person approached her and began asking her about her car. She said she asked him, “what do you want with my car?” She said the person said, “I just want to use it” and promised to bring it right back.

She said they wound up “laughing and talking” — she told him, “no, you can’t use my car.” Still, she wound up calling police.

“I wasn’t in fear,” Patterson said. “I wanted to go in and I wanted to be sure that I was going to be ok . . . he was a nice young guy.”

Patterson told a defense attorney that she later saw that person’s picture on the news — it was Laquan McDonald.

10:28 a.m. Judge bars evidence from the defense

Judge Vincent Gaughan denied bids by Jason Van Dyke’s defense team to bring multiple pieces of evidence into the trial Thursday morning.

Following a long conference behind closed doors, Gaughan reviewed his rulings in open court with Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon and defense attorney Dan Herbert.

The judge said the defense will not be allowed to show jurors a series of police training videos. He also said the defense would not be allowed to call a former case worker of McDonald’s who could testify about an investigation at the time of McDonald’s death into a potential foster parent for McDonald. Herbert said if that investigation — into McDonald’s uncle — did not go well, McDonald could have been sent back to the Department of Corrections. He said that shows McDonald “was simply at the end of his rope” when he died.

Finally, Gaughan said defense attorneys would not be allowed to tell jurors about drug tests in which McDonald tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.

9:29 a.m. Arguments over Laquan McDonald’s juvenile records

The Jason Van Dyke trial began its eighth day of testimony with arguments over Laquan McDonald’s juvenile records.

Renee Popovits, an attorney for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, challenged a subpoena from Van Dyke’s lawyers for records about McDonald. She told Judge Vincent Gaughan the records could only be turned over if there is no other way to get the information, and if the public interest outweighs the potential damage to the patient, McDonald.

Defense attorney Randy Rueckert insisted there was no other way to get the information contained in the records. He also pointed out McDonald is dead, and “the public interest is much more important right now than the deceased.”

Gaughan agreed, noting that Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder. He said the charge is “one of the highest charges in Illinois” and may even surpass treason to the state.

“I am ordering you in open court to turn over this material,” Gaughan said.

The ruling will allow the defense to show the jury McDonald’s history of drug use.


The murder trial of Jason Van Dyke continues Thursday, the second week of testimony in the Chicago Police officer’s trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald. The defense still has several witnesses left as the case looks to wind up next week. Here’s a rundown of who took the stand Wednesday.

The man whose 911 call brought Van Dyke to the scene

Rudy Barillas testified that he saw a black man breaking into trucks on a lot at 41st and Kildare, and that the man tried to stab him when Barillas confronted him. Barillas, who gave his answers Wednesday through a Spanish translator, said he yelled at the man in English, and that the man came at him with a knife after Barillas called police. Barillas testified he fended off the attacks by throwing his phone, then a fistful of dirt and gravel.

Barillas was never asked to identify the “male black” who attacked him, though Van Dyke’s lawyers have said it was McDonald, who was pursued with police and was carrying a knife. Prosecutors did not raise the issue of whether Barillas’ attacker was, in fact, McDonald. That could be an issue as the defense tries to make the case that McDonald had committed multiple forcible felonies— and thus provided justification for Van Dyke to have used deadly force— before and during his fatal encounter with police.

A fellow officer torn between a hot call and a hot meal

Also taking the stand was Chicago Police officer Leticia Velez— one of the eight officers who were at the scene when McDonald was shot the night of Oct. 20, 2014. As with other officers who have been witnesses in the case, her testimony was a mixed bag for Van Dyke.

Questioned by Van Dyke’s lawyers, Velez testified that police dispatchers’ report that officers needed help with a knife-wielding suspect was a “hot call,” and that McDonald “looked deranged” as she and her partner drove just a few feet past him as the teen fled other officers at the intersection of 41st and Pulaski. She also said she saw McDonald’s hand on his waist and that she believed he may have had a gun.

But cross-examination unwound some of the tension in the scene Velez initially described. She admitted she and her partner had debated whether they should race to the scene— or take a dinner break; Velez also never went on her radio to inform her fellow officers that she thought McDonald had a gun. She also said that after seeing McDonald on the ground after the barrage of shots, she called for a union rep, not an ambulance. And, like all the officers at the scene, save Van Dyke, Velez may have felt McDonald was a threat, but never fired a shot.

‘Revolver-knife’ testimony

The defense took an odd detour by calling Sgt. William Schield, apparently for the sole purpose of introducing into evidence the existence of a “revolver knife.” Schield testified that CPD had issued an alert to officers in 2012 — nearly two years before the McDonald shooting — warning them to be on the lookout for the weapon, which resembled a folding knife, but had a .22-caliber revolver embedded in the handle.

A copy of the officer safety alert on the revolver knife had been included in the report by CPD detectives who investigated the shooting in 2014, with a note that Van Dyke had recalled the bulletin. But so far during the trial no witness has said they feared the knife he was carrying was capable of firing bullets. In fact, on cross-examination, Schield testified that despite the directive to be on the lookout for revolver-guns, during his 27 years on the force, he’d never heard of a CPD officer recovering one.

‘By the time I was able to see the heart, it was not moving’

The ER doctor who operated on Laquan McDonald the night of the shooting said the teen likely bled out quickly from a bullet wound to his pulmonary artery, a “catastrophic injury” that would almost certainly have been deadly, even if surgeons had been able to operate right after McDonald was hit, Dr. Jeremy Stayton testified.

“If he had been shot with that injury right in front of us, the chances of his surviving (would be) very low,” Stayton said, later estimating McDonald’s chance of survival at about 1 percent. “It’s a pretty catastrophic injury.”

Stayton’s analysis backs up a theme the defense has been building on throughout the trial: of the 16 shots that hit McDonald, a bullet that entered his chest and hit the pulmonary artery likely killed him within minutes. Stayton testified that McDonald had no vital signs when he arrived at Mt. Sinai Hospital, though he did open the teen’s chest to try to revive him.

“By the time I was able to see the heart, it was not moving,” he said.

It remains unclear why the defense has fixated on which shot was fatal and how long it took McDonald to die. Prosecutors have argued that each gunshot contributed to the blood loss that killed McDonald, and that the teen was alive for each and every shot.

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