Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke plead not guilty to murder charges Tuesday in the October 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old African-American Laquan McDonald.
After authorities initially claimed that McDonald attempted to assault officers, dashcam video showed him walking away from police while armed with a knife. Officer Van Dyke shot McDonald a total of 16 times in 15 seconds. The video appears shows that most of shots were fired while McDonald was already on the ground. Van Dyke faces six counts of first degree murder and another count of official misconduct.
Van Dyke’s attorney maintains that the video does not portray the entirety of the incident, and that his client feared for his life when he discharged his weapon. He was initially charged just a few hours before the grisly video of McDonald’s death went public. He was greeted by at least one heckler when he entered the courtroom Tuesday, according to NBC Chicago.
The fallout from the publication of the dashcam video led to widespread protests in Chicago, the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and further damaged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s already tenuous relationship with the city’s black community. Emanuel has publicly condemned Van Dyke, who has been free on $1.5 million bond since the end of last month.
“We hold our police officers to a high standard and obviously in this case, Jason Van Dyke violated both the standards of professionalism that come with being a police officer but also basic moral standards that bind our community together,” the mayor said in a Nov. 24 press conference about the officer’s actions. Van Dyke’s attorney Dan Herbert has not ruled out requesting a change of venue for a trial in the aftermath of Emanuel’s remarks.
“It’s something that’s not routinely done. In Cook County it hasn’t been done in decades,” Herbert told NBC Chicago. “I think with the current events and specifically the comments by the mayor in this case, not just on a day but continuing throughout the last few weeks, we intend to seek a change of venue. And quite frankly Exhibit A is going to be the mayor and his comments and we’re going to have to find a county that is outside the reach of the mayor’s comments.”
Meanwhile, the mayor’s office is still reeling from the controversy. The City Hall press office was reportedly aware of the dashcam video just two months after McDonald was killed. And a recent Illinois Observer poll has found that more than half of Chicago’s voters think Emanuel should resign.
In an emotional address to Chicago’s City Council on Dec. 9, the mayor apologized for McDonald’s death. “I am the mayor,” Emanuel said. “As I said the other day, I own it. I take responsibility for what happened because it happened on my watch. … If we are going to fix it I want you to understand it’s my responsibility.”
The Justice Department is currently investigating the Chicago Police Department for potential civil rights violations.