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Signs, Scowls Jeopardize Officer Jason Van Dyke's Safety At Court, He Says

By Erica Demarest | April 26, 2017 5:45pm | Updated on April 28, 2017 11:18am
 Officer Jason Van Dyke, 39, is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Officer Jason Van Dyke, 39, is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm.
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Chicago Tribune/Zbigniew Bzdak

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Signs and scowls are among the latest reasons Jason Van Dyke's attorneys say the Chicago Police officer shouldn't have to appear in court on charges he murdered Laquan McDonald in 2014.

In a motion released Wednesday, defense attorney Daniel Herbert claims Van Dyke, 39, is routinely threatened, harassed and intimidated when he appears for routine status hearings at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave.

As such, the attorney argued, Van Dyke should be allowed to stay home in coming months.

RELATED: Van Dyke Judge To Protesters: Approach Him With Signs, You're In Contempt

Herbert said Van Dyke was intimidated after a March 23 hearing when "a group of young, African-American males scowled at [Van Dyke] and closely circled [him] while he was in the hallway" outside Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan's courtroom. One of the men had a tattoo of lips on his neck, Herbert said.

On that same day, according to the motion, an African-American woman sat in the same row as Van Dyke during a 90-minute hearing before holding up a sign within six inches of Van Dyke's face that read, "16 shots and a cover up."

Shortly before the March 23 hearing, Herbert said, a woman approached Van Dyke and his father in a security line and said "in a loud and provoking voice, 'I know you, you're the guy always on TV.'" That drew unnecessary attention to Van Dyke and his dad, Herbert argued.

Last year, Gaughan denied a similar motion that claimed Van Dyke's safety was in jeopardy every time he attended court. Activists taunted Van Dyke with shouts of "coward" at early court appearances, but crowds soon dwindled.

RELATED: Jason Van Dyke Worried for His Family Amid Death Threats, Attorney Says

At the start of a routine hearing last week, Gaughan took a moment to address potential protestors. Anyone spotted approaching Van Dyke with signs or slurs, he said, would be held in direct criminal contempt.

Minutes later, activist Carolyn Ruff approached Van Dyke near a row of elevators outside Gaughan's courtroom and held up a small sign that said, "16 shots and a cover-up." Deputies detained Ruff, and Gaughan ultimately let her go with a warning.

Until Gaughan rules on the latest motion, filed April 20, Van Dyke is still required to attend court. His next appearance is slated for May 25.

Van Dyke faces charges of first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm in the October 2014 slaying of 17-year-old McDonald. Van Dyke is currently free on bond.

According to prosecutors, McDonald was stealing car radios and was armed with a 3-inch blade when Chicago Police officers in Archer Heights called in a radio request for a Taser on Oct. 20, 2014.

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 his clip into McDonald, shooting the teen 16 times. Video of the shooting, which was released via court order in November 2015, sparked citywide protests that shut down the Mag Mile.