CHICAGO (AP) — Prosecutors on Monday showed jurors video of a white Chicago police officer opening fire on Laquan McDonald, dramatically recounting the 16 shots fired into the black teenager and calling the 2014 shooting “completely unnecessary.”
Jurors saw video of the shooting three times during the first day of Jason Van Dyke’s murder trial, including during the prosecution’s opening statement. The recordings show the officer shooting McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014, as the 17-year-old, carrying a small knife in one hand, walks away from officers. The video’s release about a year after the shooting sparked large protests, the ouster of the police superintendent and demands for police reform.
“He shot him … not once, not twice, but three, four, five, six seven, eight — he’s only halfway done — nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 times in total,” special prosecutor Joseph McMahon told jurors, rapping his knuckles on a lectern each time he said a number.
“Not a single shot was necessary or justified,” he said at another point in his opening statement.
But defense attorney Daniel Herbert argued that Van Dyke “is not a murderer. … He is a scared police officer who was fearful for his life and the life of others and acted as he was trained to do.”
Herbert also argued that the number of shots fired was irrelevant: “They didn’t charge him with shooting too many times. They charged him with first-degree murder.”
Herbert painted a picture of McDonald as a crazed teenager who had attacked a truck driver and a squad car and had tried to get into two restaurants. He said McDonald had flicked his folding knife open when Van Dyke pulled up.
McDonald was “planning to attack” again, Herbert said. “He’s not trying to escape.”
He and McMahon both noted McDonald had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system.
But McMahon said Van Dyke didn’t know that — or anything else about McDonald — when he opened fire just six seconds after getting out of his squad car.
“What he did see was a black boy walking down a street with a chain link fence with the audacity to ignore the police,” McMahon said.
Herbert took the prosecutor to task for bringing up race.
“The government wants to you think this is a racial issue,” he told jurors. “Race had absolutely nothing to do with this.”
Prosecutors have stressed that Van Dyke was the only officer to fire his gun, and the first person to testify was another officer who had pursued McDonald that night.
Officer Joseph McElligott said he got within 15 feet (4.5 meters) of McDonald, the same distance Van Dyke was when he shot the teen. He also said McDonald also stabbed the tire of the squad car his partner was driving and struck the window with the knife.
McElligott never fired his gun, although he did at one point have it drawn. He testified that he thought his partner was protected and that someone was coming with a Taser that could be used to subdue McDonald.
“We were just trying to be patient,” he said.
McElligott was down the street blocking traffic when Van Dyke arrived, and under cross-examination, McElligott said McDonald’s later actions had increased the threat level.
During later testimony, prosecutors showed side-by-side videos of the shooting from different squad cars and from surveillance cameras at a nearby Dunkin Donuts. At one point, prosecutors stopped the video just as McDonald was shot and then as he lay on the ground.
Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official msiconduct. Prosecutors on Monday dropped four counts of first-degree murder, but Van Dyke still faces two first-degree murder counts. Some other officers at the scene have been charged with lying on their reports in what prosecutors say was an effort to cover up what happened to protect Van Dyke.
Earlier Monday, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan decided against moving the trial from Chicago. Defense attorneys had argued that extensive publicity since the 2015 release of the video of the shooting makes it impossible to find impartial jurors needed for a fair trial. But attorneys were able to select a jury in less than a week.