Jason Van Dyke made a quick trip through the Cook County Jail Thursday, his punishment for talking to reporters about his upcoming trial for the slaying of Laquan McDonald.
At a hearing the day after jury selection began in Van Dyke’s case, Judge Vincent Gaughan tacked an extra $2,000 onto the indicted Chicago police officer’s existing $1.5 million bail — seemingly as a token gesture to show the judge’s disapproval of the interviews Van Dyke gave last week to the Chicago Tribune and WFLD.
Van Dyke was escorted to the lockup in Gaughan’s chambers but wasn’t spotted again by the media until he walked out of the Cook County Jail down the street a little more than an hour later, having posted $200 to get out.
Van Dyke hopped into a waiting minivan — and ignored reporters’ requests for comment.
Since the case landed on his docket more than two years ago, Gaughan has kept a tight grip on information in the case, initially sealing all but a few of the documents, until media organizations earlier this year petitioned the state Supreme Court for access. For his part, Van Dyke had refused interview requests until last week — just days before jury selection started — when he granted the interviews.
Gaughan declared Thursday that Van Dyke violated the judge’s order by giving the interviews but he refused to make a finding as to whether, as prosecutors alleged, Van Dyke was trying to build sympathy among potential jurors.
“I’m not going to go in and speculate whether this was an attempt to contaminate the potential jury pool,” Gaughan said. “I’m not even going to comment or make any finding whether the interview was really beneficial or not.”
A pool of about 200 prospective jurors were summoned to the courthouse on Wednesday, to begin what is likely to be a lengthy jury selection process. After being sworn in and issued questionnaires to fill out, the potential jurors were sent home until Monday — and told by the judge not to read or watch any news about the case.
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon last week filed a motion to revoke Van Dyke’s bail — and a second motion to have Van Dyke found in contempt of court — after the Tribune published a lengthy interview with Van Dyke. The Tribune interview lasted less than an hour and was taped at the office of one of Van Dyke’s lawyers, Dan Herbert. The next day, Van Dyke taped a television interview with WFLD.
In court Thursday, Assistant Special Prosecutor Joe Cullen said the interviews were a “transparent attempt” to sway jurors, and he noted that Van Dyke filed a motion asking the judge to move the trial out of Cook County — because of pretrial publicity. The judge has yet to rule.
“The defendant in that motion argued that (he) could not have a fair trial, a jury could not be selected in this county because of pretrial publicity,” Cullen said. “The defendant then generated more pretrial publicity while his very own motion was pending.”
The interviews last week allowed Van Dyke to present his case — that he acted in self-defense — without being cross-examined by prosecutors, Cullen said. The defense has not said whether Van Dyke will testify at the trial, but Cullen pointed out that Van Dyke could be a witness.
Van Dyke’s lawyer, Randy Rueckert, argued that Van Dyke made the decision to grant interviews only to respond to the “avalanche” of negative coverage of the shooting. He also added, “I suggest to the court that nothing he said there is what’s going to be brought out at trial.”
“When he talked to the press, it wasn’t to try to sway the jury, it was to get something out about him,” Rueckert said. “For two and a half years, it’s been ‘White cop who shot the black teenager.’ White and black has nothing to do with this case, and he has to stand there and take it.”
Jury selection will get into full swing Monday, when the group of prospective jurors will start to be winnowed from the 200 or so summoned his week to the 12 — and alternates — that will hear evidence. Gaughan has said he will not rule on Van Dyke’s motion to move the case to another jurisdiction until after he can question individual jurors about the case.