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Prosecutors want Jason Van Dyke’s bail hiked or revoked after media interviews

Jason Van Dyke

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke | Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune Pool/ File photo

With less than a week to go before Jason Van Dyke goes on trial for the murder of Laquan McDonald, prosecutors want a judge to increase — or revoke — bond for the Chicago police officer because he gave interviews this week to the press.

Van Dyke this week gave his first interviews since he was charged with McDonald’s murder in 2015, talking to reporters from the Chicago Tribune and local Fox affiliate WFLD.

The interviews, Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon claims in a motion filed Thursday, violate Van Dyke’s conditions of bond and a “decorum order” entered by Judge Vincent Gaughan that bars parties to the case from talking publicly.

The hearing on Van Dyke’s bail is scheduled for Saturday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, while the much-anticipated trial is scheduled to start jury selection on Wednesday. A separate motion seeks to have the judge find Van Dyke in contempt of court for violating the decorum order.

Gaughan’s order, entered shortly after the case landed on his docket in January 2016, bars any party to the case or law enforcement official from making “extrajudicial statements” about the case. Van Dyke has been suspended by CPD without pay since he was indicted.

The interview Van Dyke gave to the Tribune violated that order, and disobeying a court order violates Van Dyke’s bond, McMahon’s motion states. The motion mentions only Van Dyke’s Tribune interview, not the videotaped interview Van Dyke gave to WFLD.

In that interview, the motion states, Van Dyke made several statements directly related to the charges against him, including that he was a “political scapegoat and the victim of the ‘bandwagon of hatred’ on social media,” that he is not a “racist, trigger-happy cop” and that he had never before fired his gun.

“Jason Van Dyke . . . engaged in conduct calculated to embarrass, hinder or obstruct the court in its administration of justice or derogate from its authority or dignity, or bring the administration of law into disrepute,” the motion argues.

Van Dyke’s attorney, Dan Herbert, issued a statement noting that Van Dyke did not discuss “evidence in the case or the shooting itself” in his interviews.

“This is a very sad day in a case that has seen many firsts. The attempt to revoke or increase Jason Van Dyke’s bond for exercising his First Amendment right is an egregious abuse of power,” the statement reads.

The statement said Van Dyke “fears for his life now and the safety of his family and others in Chicago,” and that the interviews “could be his only opportunity to express his feelings.”

“During the past four years, there have been thousands of news stories portraying Mr. Van Dyke in an extremely, negative light in this case. Many have contained false information. Not one has included Mr. Van Dyke’s voice.”

Van Dyke has been free on $1.5 million bail since Nov. 30, 2015, when he put up the required 10 percent of that amount — $150,000 — to secure his release. Van Dyke is charged with murder after shooting 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in Oct. 2014, and his trial has generated intense media interest.

In the nearly three years since his indictment, Van Dyke has yet to miss any of the court hearings in his case, which have been scheduled at least once a month, and occasionally have taken place multiple times in a week.

Through his lawyers, Van Dyke has declined repeated requests for interviews since he was charged, though his wife, Tiffany, has spoken to reporters several times.

A Tribune article about the recent interview said the conversation with Van Dyke took place at Van Dyke’s lawyer’s office, and that two of his lawyers and media strategist were present — and frequently interrupted — during the interview. Tribune reporters had submitted questions to Van Dyke’s lawyers ahead of the interview.

Gaughan has kept a tight rein on proceedings in the case. His decorum order initially saw nearly every filing in the case sealed from the public, until the media petitioned the state Supreme Court for access. Inside the courtroom, Gaughan has been quick to enforce court rules — last year, he briefly jailed a spectator who snapped his fingers in the courtroom gallery during one of Van Dyke’s hearings.

A finding of indirect contempt for violating the judge’s order could land Van Dyke in jail, though its not clear how long Gaughan would be able to hold him.

And while jail time was a possible consequence of Van Dyke’s interview, aggravating Gaughan was a near certainty.

“It is puzzling from a tactical standpoint why Van Dyke and his lawyers would orchestrate this interview given the gag order and the court’s consistent and pointed efforts to limit pre-trial publicity,” said Jeffrey Urdangen, director of the Center for Criminal Defense at Northwestern University’s law school.

Van Dyke’s lawyers have not made a final decision on whether they will waive a jury and have Gaughan himself decide the case. The move to allow Van Dyke to give interviews highlight his his feelings and fears, as well as statements about how he had never before shot anyone, would seem to indicate that his lawyers are trying to get a positive impression of their client out to the public.

Van Dyke’s lawyers have sought to have the trial moved out of Cook County, based on polling handled by a consultant that indicates 86 percent of Cook County residents surveyed are familiar with the case, and 75 percent think he’s guilty.