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Jason Van Dyke Testifies About Laquan McDonald Shooting Aftermath

By Erica Demarest | June 28, 2017 10:21am | Updated on June 30, 2017 11:41am
 Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke testified about the Laquan McDonald shooting Wednesday morning at a pre-trial hearing in his murder case.
Jason Van Dyke Testifies Wednesday
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COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke at a pretrial hearing Wednesday testified publicly for the first time about the night he fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Van Dyke, 39, said he believed he would be fired if he didn't make statements to two superior officers, then Chicago Police detective David March and then Deputy Chief David McNaughton, after the Archer Heights shooting.

Those statements were at the heart of an evidentiary hearing Wednesday as special prosecutor Joseph McMahon sought permission to use Van Dyke's words in building a case against the officer.

Defense attorney Daniel Herbert argued that those statements were "compelled" — meaning Van Dyke was required to make them or risk losing his job. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling deemed such statements inadmissible in criminal proceedings.

"It was my understanding that if you didn't talk to or speak with [the investigating officers], you could be fired," Van Dyke said Wednesday as he recalled the investigation that immediately followed McDonald's shooting death on Oct. 20, 2014.

Van Dyke said he couldn't recall being told whether that was indeed true.

Jason Van Dyke, 39, testifies for the first time Wednesday since being charged in Laquan McDonald's 2014 murder. [Chicago Tribune/Nancy Stone]

After a nearly four-hour hearing inside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave., Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan ultimately allowed prosecutors to use statements Van Dyke gave to March — but denied access to those provided to McNaughton.

According to court testimony, March — who was incidentally one of three current or former Chicago Police officers criminally indicted Tuesday for his role in an alleged cover-up of the McDonald shooting — acted as the lead investigator the night McDonald was killed.

RELATED: 'Code Of Silence': 3 Officers Indicted In Alleged Laquan McDonald Cover-Up

McNaughton, meanwhile, was the highest-ranking officer on the scene that evening. His role, Gaughan decided, was to gather facts for higher-ups, not to investigate the shooting the way March was. As such, Gaughan said, any statements made to McNaughton were indeed "compelled."

Both March and McNaughton testified Wednesday under the agreement that nothing said during Van Dyke's hearing could later be used against them.

Former Chicago Police detective David March (from left) and former Deputy Chief David McNaughton testified with immunity Wednesday. [Chicago Tribune/Nancy Stone]

Van Dyke appeared calm and even-keeled during his half-hour testimony Wednesday morning. The officer never raised his voice and regularly referred to McMahon as "sir."

At the request of Herbert, videotaping of the testimony was prohibited. Media in the courtroom were allowed to take still photographs and record audio.

Less than 24 hours earlier, special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes announced charges of conspiracy, misconduct and obstruction against March and officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney. All three men could face several years in prison and hefty fines if convicted. They are slated to be arraigned July 10.

“The indictment makes clear that these defendants did more than merely obey an unofficial ‘code of silence,’" Holmes said Tuesday. "Rather, it alleges that they lied about what occurred to prevent independent criminal investigators from learning the truth."

Jason Van Dyke, 39, testifies for the first time Wednesday since being charged in Laquan McDonald's 2014 murder. [Chicago Tribune/Nancy Stone]

During a hearing earlier this month, Judge Vincent Gaughan granted the state permission to use two of Van Dyke's written reports, as well as statements made by five Chicago police officers who were on the scene with Van Dyke, in its investigation.

Gaughan last month denied a motion filed by Herbert to dismiss the entire indictment against Van Dyke. A protester who snapped his fingers in agreement was held in contempt of court. In April, Gaughan denied Van Dyke's request to skip routine hearings due to potential harassment from demonstrators.

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

According to prosecutors, McDonald, who had the drug PCP in his system and was armed with a 3-inch blade, was stealing truck radios when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a 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.

Van Dyke, suspended without pay from the Police Department, is free on bond.