Van Dyke Trial Day 18: Van Dyke testimony ends; ‘I thought I was backpedalling’
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The trial has concluded for the day; defense to rest first thing Wednesday morning
3:09 p.m. Expert insists shooting of Laquan McDonald was justified
An expert in use of deadly force by police rushed Jason Van Dyke’s defense attorney in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon — to demonstrate to jurors how quickly someone with a knife could advance on an officer from 13 feet.
That expert, Barry Vance Brodd, said Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald was justified. He said he based his opinion on a review of police reports and other documents in the case, as well as two conversations he had with Van Dyke.
Brodd and defense attorney Dan Herbert conducted their demonstration after measuring off a distance of 13 feet in the courtroom. Brodd rushed at Herbert and pretended to stab Herbert with a knife as Herbert raised his hand as if he was holding a gun.
“I feel that Officer Van Dyke’s shooting of Laquan McDonald was justified,” Brodd said earlier.
When cross examination began, assistant special prosecutor Joseph Cullen began by noting, “there were a number of things that were artificial about the little demonstration you just did.” The two men then began to discuss the differences between the scene in the courtroom and the scene at 41st and Pulaski on Oct. 20, 2014.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said the defense will rest Wednesday morning after entering its evidence into the case, and the prosecution will put on its rebuttal case, as the trial begins its final stages.
2:29 p.m. Van Dyke testimony concludes; ‘I thought I was backpedalling’
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke pushed back on some questions as his cross examination continued Tuesday.
His testimony finally ended at 2:26 p.m.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Jody Gleason asked Van Dyke whether he could have asked, before shooting Laquan McDonald, whether an officer had responded with a Taser. When Van Dyke quibbled with her questions, Gleason said, “You don’t have to get out of the car at that point.”
Van Dyke replied, “You could say I also didn’t have to go to work that night.”
Then, Van Dyke insisted, “as an officer you have a duty to not retreat. You have a duty to place somebody into custody.”
Van Dyke said he heard that an officer was coming with a Taser “from a distance” but he “never heard once over the radio that a Taser unit was responding.”
When Gleason asked Van Dyke whether he could have run behind his police vehicle to put a barrier between him and McDonald in the six seconds before he opened fire, Van Dyke noted how close McDonald got to him in six seconds.
“And you got a lot closer to him,” Gleason said.
Van Dyke said, “I know that now.”
Then he insisted, “Miss, I thought I was backpedalling that night.”
“You thought you were backpedalling after you were firing shot after shot after shot?” Gleason asked.
2:12 p.m. Van Dyke says ‘my focus was just on that knife’
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke repeatedly said Tuesday he just wanted Laquan McDonald to get rid of his knife.
While being questioned by his own attorney, he said he was yelling at McDonald to get rid of it — even when McDonald was on the ground.
“I could see him starting to push up with his left hand off the ground, and I see his left shoulder start to come up and I still see him holding that knife with his right hand not letting go of it,” Van Dyke said. “His eyes are still bugged out. His face has no expression on it. I’m yelling at him ‘drop that knife.’”
After cross-examination began, he told Assistant Special Prosecutor Jody Gleason “I shot at that knife. I wanted him to get rid of that knife.”
“My focus was just on that knife, and I just wanted him to get rid of that knife,” Van Dyke said.
Gleason asked if he was trained to shoot at the knife. He said he was not.
When Gleason asked him why he made the comment that “we’re going to have to shoot,” he said he made the comment because he thought other officers were under attack. He said, “the whole thing was just … shocking to me.”
Gleason also was attempting to show that none of the videos presented as evidence, even the defense’s own computer animated re-creation of the shooting, shows McDonald raising the knife as Van Dyke described in his testimony.
Van Dyke said none of the videos showed the shooting from his exact perspective.
Van Dyke also acknowledged that he did not backpedal from McDonald that night, as he told a detective later at the scene.
1:55 p.m. Van Dyke says McDonald had ‘huge, white eyes just staring straight through me’
An emotional Jason Van Dyke finally told a jury Tuesday how his fatal encounter with Laquan McDonald unfolded Oct. 20, 2014.
Van Dyke began to struggle with his testimony when he began to describe those final moments — just before he opened fire on the 17-year-old McDonald. Earlier, he explained how he and his partner, Officer Joseph Walsh, raced to a call that officers needed help near 41st and Pulaski.
He repeatedly referred to McDonald as a black male “wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans.”
The officer explained how he and Walsh circled McDonald in their police vehicle before Van Dyke finally hopped out to confront McDonald. That’s when defense attorney Randy Rueckert asked Van Dyke if he could see McDonald’s face.
“Yeah, I could,” Van Dyke said.
Rueckert asked him what he saw.
“His face had no expression,” Van Dyke said. “His eyes were just bugging out of his head. He had just these huge, white eyes just staring straight through me.”
Rueckert asked if Van Dyke said anything.
“I was yelling at him, ‘Drop the knife!’ I yelled it I don’t know how many times, but that’s all I yelled.”
Rueckert asked if McDonald continued to advance.
“He never stopped,” Van Dyke said.
Rueckert asked how close McDonald got to Van Dyke. And that’s when Van Dyke seemed to begin to struggle.
“He got probably 10, 15 feet away from me,” Van Dyke said.
Van Dyke began to wipe tears from his eyes. He said he and McDonald “never lost eye contact.” He said McDonald’s “eyes were bugging out, his face was just expressionless.” He said McDonald “turned his torso toward me.” And he said McDonald “waved the knife from his lower right side upwards across his body toward my left shoulder.
Rueckert asked Van Dyke what he did.
“I shot him.”
Rueckert asked Van Dyke if he knew how many times he fired. Van Dyke said no.
Van Dyke continued to struggle as Rueckert questioned him and at one time had to ask his lawyer to repeat a question.
Eventually, Van Dyke said, “once I recognized that he was on the ground, I stopped shooting.”
1:17 p.m. Testimony interrupted by ‘technical difficulties’ after Van Dyke introduces himself
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s testimony was interrupted early on by “technical difficulties.”
Before the judge called a recess to deal with those difficulties, Van Dyke, 40, identified himself for jurors and said, “I’m married to my wife and we have two children. My children are 17 and 12.”
He also said he has a bachelor’s degree in business from Saint Xavier University, and he went on to describe his time at the police academy and his early days at the Chicago Police Department.
Van Dyke had a cup of water nearby and had begun to take sips from it before the judge called a recess.
1:01 p.m. Van Dyke takes the witness stand
In a high-risk decision, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is taking the stand to testify in his own defense in his murder trial.
The highly anticipated decision came on what is expected to be the last day of testimony from Van Dyke’s defense team.
Legal experts have different views on the risks and rewards that his testimony might bring. Read the story here.
12:22 p.m. Jurors hear about transit card on McDonald’s body
Chicago Police Officer William Johnson took the witness stand before a lunch break to identify four items he recovered from Laquan McDonald at Mount Sinai Hospital the night McDonald was shot.
Johnson said he recovered a disabled transit card belonging to another man, a Ventra card, a paper receipt and a state identification card that belonged to McDonald.
On cross examination, Johnson also acknowledged that he recovered bullet fragments that night.
“You got those from the body as opposed to from his clothing, is that correct?” Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen asked.
Johnson said he “didn’t physically take them from his body.”
Noon: Van Dyke told his partner, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy’
Psychologist Laurence Miller told jurors during his cross-examination Tuesday about comments made by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke during an interview.
Miller said he learned during the interview that, when he was about a block and a half away from Laquan McDonald the night of the fatal shooting, Van Dyke told his partner, “Oh my God, we’re going to have to shoot the guy.”
Additionally, when he learned McDonald had attacked another police vehicle with a knife after being confronted by a pair of officers, Van Dyke told his partner, “Why don’t they shoot him if he is attacking them?”
Miller also explained that, as part of the threat Van Dyke perceived from McDonald, Van Dyke said McDonald “looked at him with a kind of dead stare.”
Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen tried to show apparent contradictions between what Van Dyke told the psychologist during their interview as well as police at the scene after the shooting and what the dashcam video showed.
For instance, Van Dyke told Miller that McDonald flipped open a knife about 10 to 15 feet away from him, when in fact, the video shows that it happened well before then, a fact the psychologist acknowledged.
Miller also may have let slip that Van Dyke is in fact going to take the stand, indicating he does not know what Van Dyke is going to say “today.”
11:48 a.m. Media member held in contempt
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan ordered an apparent member of the media held in contempt Tuesday morning after he caught the person recording testimony.
Gaughan ordered the person into custody and warned reporters against “trying to game the system.” He said “trying to get ahead” and trying to “put yourself ahead of justice is intolerable in this courtroom.”
11:43 a.m. Psychologist said ‘threat’ Van Dyke perceived ’emerged and built up over time’
Psychologist Laurence Miller told a prosecutor Tuesday that the “threat” perceived by Officer Jason Van Dyke “emerged and built up over time.”
While being questioned by Assistant Special Prosecutor Joseph Cullen, Miller explained to jurors that he interviewed Van Dyke over Skype. Miller said defense attorney Dan Herbert and an associate were in his office at the time of the interview.
Later during his cross-examination, Cullen asked Miller, “at what point did the defendant perceive this threat, this life-threatening emergency?”
Miller said, “as it was related to me this was something that emerged and built up over time, the threat was first perceived when the officer got a report of an individual attacking police and puncturing tires.”
The psychologist said the threat increased when that “individual,” Laquan McDonald, did not drop his weapon, stared at him in an “atypical” manner when Van Dyke confronted him, and then even appeared to be a threat after Van Dyke took action to neutralize the threat.
11:16 a.m. Psychologist: Van Dyke ‘responded to what he perceived was a deadly threat’
A psychologist called to the witness stand by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s defense team told jurors Tuesday that Van Dyke “responded to what he perceived was a deadly threat” the night he killed Laquan McDonald.
Laurence Miller told jurors that Van Dyke “responded in a way that, based on his training, was designed to neutralize that threat as he understood it.”
The psychologist was also asked if Van Dyke acted as a reasonable officer would. He said a “reasonable officer faced with the perceptual reality of what Officer Jason Van Dyke was experiencing, the answer would be yes.”
Miller gave his testimony on what could be the last day of Van Dyke’s defense. He also told jurors about the psychological effects of such shootings on police, explaining that “many police officers will obsessively second guess themselves” after using deadly force.
Police officers and others in similar situations “don’t necessarily enjoy taking a human life and they may have a psychological reaction to it,” he said. They basically wind up “chewing it over and over and over in their brain.”
Miller also testified about various phenomena that people can experience following a life-threatening situation. He said his testimony was based on observations and reports from officers who were in uncontested use-of-force incidents. Officers have reported experiencing slow motion, tunnel vision, tunnel hearing and sounds that seem louder or quieter than they should, he said.
The psychologist also gave jurors a lesson about the brain, how it reacts to certain situations and how memories are stored. He explained that “all of these parts of the brain are operating in tandem” on a “moment-to-moment basis.” He said that “what seems like simple behavior is actually a very complex process.”
10:15 a.m.: Psychologist takes the stand for the defense
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s defense team kicked off what could be its last day of testimony Tuesday by calling to the witness stand Laurence Miller, a Florida-based psychologist.
Miller has written several books focused on the role of psychology in police work and helping officers cope with traumatic events. In a January 2015 column for PoliceOne.com, Miller wrote about the law and training around police use of force. He offered a hypothetical scenario that resembled Van Dyke’s decision to fire 16 shots at Laquan McDonald.
Citing a “rule” for officers’ use of deadly force, Miller explained, “… do not use deadly force unless there is absolutely no choice — but once the decision has been made, be sure the force is as deadly as possible, as quickly as possible.”
“If you shoot a charging suspect four times, it won’t make much difference if he dies of his injuries several seconds after he’s had a chance to crush your skull with a brick,” Miller wrote.
7:40 a.m. : Van Dyke’s decision day for testifying
Jason Van Dyke’s defense tries to wrap up its case Tuesday, after the trial was postponed Monday because of a sick juror.
Jurors may find out Tuesday whether Van Dyke will hit the stand and tell them firsthand what was going through his mind when he shot Laquan McDonald 16 times.
Or they might have to settle for a psychologist who talked to Van Dyke and who has written extensively about how police experience stress during shootings and confrontations.
The question for the defense is whether the psychologist and a computer animation re-creating the shooting from Van Dyke’s perspective will be enough for the jury to see what Van Dyke did through his eyes.
Or should Van Dyke testify in his own defense?
If he hits the stand, he would face a blistering cross-examination from prosecutors, who will want him to justify each of the 16 shots he fired at McDonald and possibly even get into past complaints against him as a police officer.