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Officer Jason Van Dyke Pleads Not Guilty To Murder In Shooting Of Laquan McDonald

Updated 12/29/15 - 10:39 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Chicago police officer charged with murder in the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Jason Van Dyke, 37, was indicted earlier this month on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct. Van Dyke pleaded not guilty when he appeared before Judge Vincent Gaughan at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday. He was due back in court on January 29, 2016.

Van Dyke, surrounded by cameras as he entered the courthouse, was heckled by a man who called him a coward and mentioned the 16 shots the officer fired into McDonald's body.

"Sixteen shots for one small knife, what did you think you were, a hero?" the man said as Van Dyke crossed the street.

McDonald was killed on Oct. 20, 2014, after police responded to reports of a person slashing tires near 41st Street and Pulaski Road. Police officers surrounded McDonald as he was walking down Pulaski, and Van Dyke shot the teen 16 times.

The day after the shooting, police said McDonald lunged at officers with a knife, but dashboard camera video of the shooting released last month showed the teen was walking away from Van Dyke when he was shot. Van Dyke's attorney, Dan Herbert, has said the officer feared for his life and the lives of his fellow officers, and the video of the incident doesn't tell the whole story.

Herbert said Van Dyke is looking forward to having his side of the story told at trial.

"He wants his story to get out so that people don't see him as this cold-blooded killer, but that's what the trial is for," Herbert said.

Laquan McDonald
Laquan McDonald (Supplied Photo)

McDonald's great uncle, Marvin Hunter, said the family wants the court case televised "gavel to gavel."

"We really believe that there is a culture in the county of Cook, with the Police Department and the criminal justice system, where police feel comfortable with murdering African American people," Hunter said. "We seek justice in this matter, and we need all of the help that we can get to make sure that that is a reality."

While cameras were allowed to record Van Dyke's appearance before Presiding Criminal Court Judge Leroy Martin Jr. when he assigned the case to Gaughan, they were not allowed to record Van Dyke's arraignment before Gaughan.

Hunter said another fatal police shooting over the weekend -- the Police Department's first use of deadly force since video of McDonald's shooting was made public -- is evidence of a culture in which police officers feel comfortable shooting civilians.

Early Saturday morning, a police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, and also accidentally killed 55-year-old Bettie Davis in the process.

LeGrier's family has said the teen was agitated, and had threatened his father while holding a baseball bat. Police have said officers responding to the domestic dispute fired at LeGrier when he became combative. The officer who fired killed LeGrier and accidentally shot Jones.

"You have to have some sense of comfortability within yourself to believe that you can do this without any kind of recourse from your actions, and I believe that the entire criminal justice system in the county of Cook is corrupt, and I maintain that, and I need someone to prove me wrong by bringing justice in the Jason Van Dyke case," Hunter said.


Herbert said the publicity of other fatal police shootings in Chicago "probably will never help my client," and he said that could be another reason to possibly seek a change of venue for Van Dyke's trial.

"At the end of the day, I don't know the facts necessarily of that [LeGrier and Jones] shooting. They should not affect my client's case in any way, shape, or form; and that's why we're going to make sure that we're in a forum where we firmly believe we can get a fair trial," Herbert said.

Van Dyke's attorney previously has said he believes Mayor Rahm Emanuel's repeated public criticism of Van Dyke could serve as "Exhibit A" in a request for a change of venue in the case, because the mayor's comments might have tainted the jury pool in Cook County. Herbert has not yet filed a motion asking for a change of venue, and he said Tuesday he is still considering whether to make such a request once evidence in the case has been turned over to him.

Van Dyke has a history of misconduct complaints against him, mostly for excessive force, but none of them were sustained.

The McDonald case led to the firing of Police Supt. Garry McCarthy.

Van Dyke's arraignment comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel is cutting short his family vacation to Cuba in the wake of the LeGrier's and Jones' death on Saturday as police responded to a domestic disturbance call from LeGrier's father.

LeGrier's father has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. Attorney Bill Foutris said LeGrier did not pose a threat to police, even if he was still holding a bat when officers arrived.

"Quintonio didn't have a weapon. He didn't have a gun, he didn't have a knife," Foutris said. "I don't know that he had a bat at the time of the shooting."

Foutris has said, even if LeGrier still had a bat when police arrived, he was not a threat to them at a distance of 20 to 30 feet.

Jones' family said they also plan to file a lawsuit.

Since that shooting, the Emanuel administration has announced a new policy for the handling of police-involved shootings. From now on, all officers involved in shootings will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days. In addition, the mayor tasked interim Police Supt. John Escalante and acting Independent Police Review Authority chief Sharon Fairley with conducting a complete review of the Police Department's crisis intervention and de-escalation policies in situations when officers respond to calls involving a mental health crisis.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the LeGrier and Jones case will be part of its ongoing investigation of the Police Department's use of force.

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