McDonald’s ‘rampage’ more mild than wild as Van Dyke’s defense struggles

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke takes in the testimony last week during his murder trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. | Antonio Perez Chicago Tribune pool photo

The first time Yvette Patterson laid eyes on Laquan McDonald, he was hanging out in the alley behind her house as she came home from a party in the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2014.

“He walked over and was like, ‘Can I see your car? I just want to use it. I’ll bring it right back,’” Patterson recalled on the witness stand Thursday, as a witness for the defense of Jason Van Dyke, the police officer who fatally shot McDonald less than 20 hours later.

In her testimony Thursday, Patterson remembered “laughing and talking” with the 17-year-old, and politely declining to loan him her car. Defense attorney Dan Herbert noted that she’d called 911 and in a 2015 interview with the FBI, she’d told agents the conversation started with McDonald asking her “Who the f— do you know that lives here?”

Patterson insisted she wasn’t frightened of McDonald but did want to be protected as she went inside.

“I ended up calling the police for the simple fact that I wanted to get into the house, I wasn’t in fear at all,” she said. “He was a very nice young guy, evidently.”

Yvette Patterson testifies during the trial for the shooting death of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday. She testified that she encountered McDonald in her alley early in the morning on the day of the shooting and called 911. | Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune pool photo

Patterson’s cheery testimony was one of several blows to Van Dyke’s defense, as his lawyers have struggled to build the case they previewed in their opening statement that McDonald was on a “wild rampage” the night he was shot.

In rulings before the jury was brought in Thursday, Judge Vincent Gaughan barred testimony from a DCFS caseworker who had been assigned to McDonald. The caseworker would have testified that McDonald was faced with the prospect of being removed from the home of the uncle he’d been living with and placed into custody.

“On the night Laquan McDonald died, Laquan McDonald was out of control and was simply at the end of his rope for many reasons,” Herbert said.

The defense also called Nicholas Pappas, a firearms instructor who was at the Chicago Police Academy when Van Dyke was a recruit in 2001. Pappas testified that CPD recruits are trained to quickly reload their weapons if their pistol goes into “slide lock”— as Van Dyke’s can be seen doing after firing all 16 shots in his gun at McDonald. The defense has argued Van Dyke reloaded after shooting McDonald because of this training, not because he intended to continue shooting.

“They were trained and drilled on that from the very beginning,” Pappas said. “To stand there with an empty weapon is to invite a big problem.”

A defense expert on drug toxicology testified that McDonald had the drug PCP in his system, and the levels were high enough that he believed McDonald had consumed the drug the day he died. The drug, originally formulated as an anesthetic, can give users increased pain tolerance, feelings of “omnipotence,” and “superhuman strength,” according to James Thomas O’Donnell, a pharmacologist.

O’Donnell, who reviewed police reports, the shooting video, the testimony of Van Dyke’s partner as well as toxicology reports from McDonald’s autopsy, said McDonald’s behavior leading up the shooting showed that McDonald was exhibiting “violent rage behavior” that also is a symptom of PCP use.

The trial is set to resume on Monday, as Gaughan scheduled an off day for the jury Friday. The trial is likely to wind up by the middle of next week.

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