Our Pledge To You


Snapping protester in Van Dyke case gets probation

Moises Bernal leaves court after a hearing on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. Bernal, a teacher and activist, was found in contempt of court for snapping his fingers during a hearing in Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke's murder case. | Andy Grimm for the Sun Times

An activist who clicked his fingers in muted applause during a pre-trial hearing in Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder case has learned his lesson, the activist’s attorney said Friday.

“He’s not going to do this again,” lawyer James Fennerty told reporters, after a Cook County Judge sentenced Moises Bernal to 12 months probation.

In May, Bernal snapped his fingers when Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled against a motion to dismiss the first-degree murder and aggravated battery charges against Van Dyke in the fatal 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

“I’m on the judge’s side of this,” Fennerty said Friday. “We don’t want to have a situation where Van Dyke is found guilty and then the verdict is overturned because they said he didn’t get a fair trial because someone yelled out something or did something that could affect the decisions of the jurors.”

During the hearing in May, Gaughan ordered Bernal held in contempt of court.

The teacher spent 11 hours in jail before posting $40,000 bond.

Moises Bernal, left, who was in the courtroom to hear the proceedings, was held in contempt by Judge Vincent Gaughan after snapping his fingers. Bernal told the judge he was in court to see a “racist murderer” go to jail at the George Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago Thursday May 25, 2017. | Nancy Stone |Pool| Chicago Tribune

Gaughan scolded Bernal again at a hearing last month, warning Bernal that even his muted response could have triggered chaos in the courtroom.

“When you started clicking your fingers… it’s almost like the top of Mount Everest with a snowball,” Gaughan said. “By the time it got down it could have… incited the whole courtroom.”

Bernal teaches citizenship classes at Instituto del Progreso Latino in Little Village and is a community activist.

When Gaughan called Bernal in front of the courtroom in May , he asked Bernal why he’d come to court in the first place.

Lawyers for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke (right), charged with murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, want access to McDonald’s juvenile records. | Provided and file photos

“To see a racist murderer on trial, a racist killer,” Bernal said, speaking softly and stealing a glance over his shoulder at Van Dyke.

Gaughan has demanded strict control of proceedings in the Van Dyke case, barring lawyers from talking to the media and sealing most filings from public view.

After complaints from Van Dyke’s lawyers about taunts from protesters, the judge last month adopted heightened security measures and peppers warnings about proper courtroom behavior into each hearing.

Contributing: Andy Grimm