By Carla K. Johnson
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHICAGO _ A white Chicago police officer charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
Jason Van Dyke is “hanging in there” and wants to tell his side of what happened so he’s not seen “as this cold-blooded killer,” defence attorney Dan Herbert said after the court hearing. Herbert added that they haven’t ruled out asking for a change of venue. The case is in Cook County Criminal Court in Chicago where demonstrators have staged marches protesting the shooting and how it’s been handled.
Van Dyke, 37, faces six counts of first-degree murder and one of official misconduct in the death of 17-year-old McDonald. The officer, wearing a dark suit and blue striped tie, appeared in court Tuesday as his lawyer entered the plea on his behalf.
Judge Vincent Gaughan set the next hearing for Jan. 29.
Cook County prosecutors were not available for comment after the arraignment.
Public outcry has been furious since a dashcam video was released last month showing the veteran officer shooting McDonald 16 times. The teenager, armed with a knife, was veering away from officers when Van Dyke opened fire.
The footage sparked days of street demonstrations, the forced resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and a broad federal civil rights investigation of the Police Department’s practices and how allegations of officer misconduct are handled.
Over the weekend, Chicago police killed two other people, a 55-year-old woman who was shot accidentally and a 19-year-old man police described as “combative” before he was shot. Both were black. Police have not released the race of the officer or officers involved and will not say how many officers fired their weapons or what the man and woman were doing before they were shot.
Republican Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said in a statement Tuesday that the shootings raise questions about why officers don’t have more options besides using lethal force.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, under pressure from community activists to resign since the McDonald video was released, returned to Chicago after cutting short a family vacation in Cuba, spokesman Adam Collins said late Tuesday night. It was unclear if the mayor was at his home, where protesters had gathered outside earlier Tuesday.
Herbert, the lawyer for Van Dyke, said policy changes in the Chicago Police Department would be beneficial.
The mayor’s office, which had already said some changes would be forthcoming, said in a statement late Tuesday night that Emanuel and Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante would announce Wednesday “a major overhaul” of the policy regarding how officers respond to incidents and the use of force.
The statement also said the police department will also begin to require every officer who “responds to calls for service” to be equipped with a Taser and trained to use it by June 1, 2016.
Van Dyke, who has been free since paying the $150,000 required of his $1.5 million bail, was suspended from the police force without pay after he was charged.
Following Tuesday’s hearing, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, McDonald’s great-uncle, called for gavel-to-gavel televised coverage of the trial. He said it would be “in the best interest of fairness and justice in this case.”
Hunter added that he and others think there is a culture within the Cook County criminal justice system and the Chicago Police Department “where police feel comfortable with murdering African-American people.”