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Laquan McDonald Demonstrator Regrets Snapping Fingers In Court, Lawyer Says

By Erica Demarest | June 21, 2017 12:15pm | Updated on June 23, 2017 11:18am
 Moises Bernal (center) was held in contempt May 25.
Moises Bernal (center) was held in contempt May 25.
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Chicago Tribune/Nancy Stone

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — The man held in contempt of court for snapping his fingers at a Jason Van Dyke hearing last month now "regrets" the move, his attorney said Wednesday.

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan at a May 25 hearing denied a defense motion to dismiss the indictment against Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murdering 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

RELATED: Jason Van Dyke Is Not 'Immune' From Murder Charges, Judge Says

Demonstrator Moises Bernal was so happy with the ruling that he began to snap his fingers — despite an earlier warning that Gaughan would not tolerate any noise or outbursts in his courtroom.

Gaughan held Bernal in direct criminal contempt — saying the "clicking sound that disrupted this court completely" was an "insult to me" that "disrupted the administration of justice."

After a routine hearing Wednesday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave., defense attorney James Fennerty described Bernal as remorseful.

"Well, I think he regrets doing it," Fennerty said. "He [snapped his fingers] because he was concurring with the judge. ... He did it basically to thank the judge."

When Gaughan called Bernal to the bench May 25, the Little Village teacher and father of three said he was in court to "see a racist murderer on trial." Bernal never apologized for snapping.

Gaughan on Wednesday likened Bernal's snapping to a snowball growing in size as it tumbles down the side of Mt. Everest: "When you snapped your fingers ... you could've incited the whole courtroom."

Gaughan stressed courtroom outbursts could affect Van Dyke's ability to get a fair trial.

Bernal is next slated to appear in court July 7.

He could face up to six months in jail when sentenced, but Fennerty said it's more likely Bernal will be convicted on July 7 and given a yearlong probationary period. If Bernal doesn't pick up additional charges during that year, the conviction would be vacated, Fennerty said.

According to Fennerty, Bernal teaches citizenship classes at Instituto del Progreso Latino. He is free on bond after posting $4,000, or 10 percent of his $40,000 bail. Bernal spent 11 hours in jail before posting bond in May.

At the start of Van Dyke's May 25 hearing, both Gaughan and sheriff's deputies advised the roughly 30 demonstrators in court (Bernal included) to refrain from making any noise or displaying any flyers in the courtroom.

Security had been heightened that morning to both protect Van Dyke from possible demonstrators and as a buildingwide response to the fatal arena bombing that had just occurred in Manchester, England. Those attending Van Dyke's hearing were subject to bag checks and multiple metal detector screenings.

Van Dyke's appearances have frequently drawn protesters, prompting Van Dyke's request in April to be exempted from appearing at routine hearings. That request was denied.

According to prosecutors, McDonald was stealing truck 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 available to them. 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. Van Dyke is currently free on bond.