Jury shown graphic footage of police officer shooting teen 16 times until his partner asked him to stop
Jason Van Dyke was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one charge of official misconduct, and 16 counts of aggravated battery over the death of teenager Laquan McDonald
The murder trial of police officer Jason Van Dyke over his fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald began on Monday in Chicago, with the jury shown the graphic dashcam footage of the cop shooting the teen 16 times from approximately 10 feet (three meters) away.
Van Dyke, 40, is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot fired, in the October 20, 2014, slaying of McDonald. The 17-year-old was shot after attempting to steal car radios with a small three-inch blade. He had PCP in his system.
In the video, McDonald can be seen behaving erratically while walking down the street, swaying slightly as he gripped a folding knife with a three-inch blade. He did not obey police commands to drop the knife and continued to stagger; Van Dyke then steps out of his squad car and begins to shoot at the teen within the next six seconds.
According to the Guardian, special prosecutor Joseph McMahon opened the prosecution's case by admitting that a police officer could shoot the offender, but "only when it's necessary."
He said, "A police officer has the legal right to use force and even deadly force but only when it is necessary. What was necessary that night [of] October 20, 2014, was the arrest of Laquan McDonald, but it was not necessary to kill Laquan to do so."
McMahon said that Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder because "not a single shot was necessary or justified," pushing home his point by reminding the jury that the officer had shot the teen 16 times. "In total, this defendant decides to shoot Laquan McDonald not once, not twice, but three, four, five, six, seven eight. He’s only half done. Nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 15, 16 times in total – 16 gunshots into the defenseless body of Laquan McDonald," he said.
The prosecutor then revealed how, if it were not for his partner's intervention, Van Dyke would have continued to shoot at the teen even after emptying his first clip. "This defendant gets out of his vehicle. From the moment he gets out of his vehicle, six seconds later he pulls the trigger …1.6 seconds after the defendant starts to shoot Laquan McDonald, Laquan McDonald is knocked to the ground, never to get up again," he said.
"For the next 12.5 seconds, the defendant continues to pull the trigger of the gun over and over until he empties the entire clip," he continued, adding that it was the officer's partner who got out and kicked the knife away, stopping Van Dyke from reloading his gun with another clip and continuing to shoot.
At the time of the killing, a police union representative had told reporters that Van Dyke had acted in self-defense after McDonald lunged at him and his partner. Initial police reports described the incident similarly and justified the shooting, but the police dashcam video of the incident that was released 13 months later would turn the case on its head.
While an autopsy did show that McDonald had PCP in his system, it was also found that the knife he was carrying was closed. Van Dyke was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, with three other Chicago police officers indicted for charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct for attempting to cover up the events surrounding the shooting.
His defense lawyer, Daniel Herbert, told the jury that his client was not "a murderer," and said, "The evidence is going to show that he was a scared police officer, fearful for his life and others and he acted within his training." He added that McDonald had been on "a wild rampage through the city for 24 hours."
Herbert also said that Van Dyke had reason to believe McDonald was going to hurt someone and that he was in fear when he made the decision to pull the trigger. "What happened to Laquan McDonald is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy, it’s not a murder and that’s what the evidence is going to show," he said. He also brushed off suggestions from the prosecution that there was a racial element involved, "The government wants you to think this is a racial issue because that’s more inflammatory. Race has absolutely nothing to do with this."
Van Dyke faces two counts of first-degree murder, one charge of official misconduct, and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each shot fired.
Watch the video (Warning: Distressing content) of the shooting below: