COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Despite a judge's warnings to keep protests outside, local activists say they plan to pack the courtroom at upcoming hearings for Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago Police officer charged with murdering Laquan McDonald in 2014.
"It's all about community pressure," Chicago activist William Calloway said. "It's been 16 months since [Van Dyke] was charged. We want a trial date."
Following a routine hearing Thursday morning inside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave., activist Carolyn Ruff walked toward Van Dyke as he entered an elevator surrounded by Cook County Sheriff deputies and held up a small piece of paper.
It was roughly 4-by-6 inches and had the words, "16 shots and a cover-up" scribbled in small, shaky letters.
After a hearing last month, a different woman approached Van Dyke with a larger sign that said, "16 shots," according to courthouse sources.
Judge Vincent Gaughan took a moment Thursday to address potential protesters. Anyone spotted approaching Van Dyke with signs or slurs, he said, would be held in direct criminal contempt.
"That's not going to be allowed in this courtroom or on the outside of my courtroom or any place in this building," Gaughan said. "It's a violation of just civility, and it's a violation of being a human being."
Just minutes after Gaughan spoke, Ruff approached Van Dyke with a sign in the hallway outside Gaughan's courtroom. A sergeant with the Cook County Sheriff's Office caught the moment on tape with a body camera.
Ruff was brought before Gaughan, who let the woman go with a warning.
"Do you understand this is a court of law? This is not the streets," Gaughan said. "If your family member was accused, you wouldn't want someone doing this to them."
Outside the courthouse, Ruff told reporters she didn't hear Gaughan's earlier warning and that she made her small sign "because I wanted to make it."
"I think she was exercising her First Amendment rights," Calloway said. "She had a right to express her opinion."
Calloway said he and other local activists plan to pack Gaughan's courtroom during the next hearing in Van Dyke's case, slated for May 25. The goal, he said, is to encourage officials to set a trial date sometime this year.
"We're going to galvanize the courtroom," Calloway said. "In order for our city to heal ... Rahm needs to resign, and Van Dyke needs to be convicted."
Van Dyke, 39, is free on bond. He faces charges of first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson last year moved to have Van Dyke and several other officers fired over allegations they lied after the shooting of McDonald.
McDonald had been stealing truck radios and was armed with a 3-inch blade on Oct. 20, 2014, when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a radio request for a Taser, prosecutors said.
Van Dyke and his partner responded to the call, but never specified whether they had a Taser. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Van Dyke pulled his gun and emptied it into McDonald, shooting the teen 16 times. Video of the shooting, which was released via a court order in November 2015, sparked protests that shut down the Mag Mile and other major streets.