World

Jury sees video of fatal shooting as Chicago police officer's trial opens

Prosecutors show jurors video of a white Chicago police officer opening fire on Laquan McDonald, dramatically recounting the 16 shots fired into the black teenager and calling the 2014 shooting "completely unnecessary."

Jason Van Dyke shot knife-wielding black teenager 16 times

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke sits in court in Chicago, on Monday. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct. (Antonio Perez/ Chicago Tribune via AP)

Prosecutors on Monday showed jurors video of a white Chicago police officer opening fire on Laquan McDonald, dramatically recounting the 16 shots fired into the black teenager and calling the 2014 shooting "completely unnecessary."

The video, played 15 minutes into the prosecution's opening statement in Jason Van Dyke's murder trial, shows the officer shooting McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014, as the 17-year-old, carrying a small knife in one hand, walks away from officers.

"He shot him… not once, not twice, but three, four, five, six seven, eight — he's only halfway done — nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 times in total," special prosecutor Joseph McMahon told jurors, rapping his knuckles on a lectern each time he said a number.

"Not a single shot was necessary or justified," he said at another point in his opening statement.

But defence attorney Daniel Herbert argued that Van Dyke "is not a murderer… He is a scared police officer who was fearful for his life and the life of others and acted as he was trained to do."

Fellow officer testifies

Herbert also argued that the number of shots fired was irrelevant: "They didn't charge him with shooting too many times. They charged him with first-degree murder."

Herbert painted a picture of McDonald as a crazed young man who had attacked a truck driver and a squad car and had tried to get into two restaurants. He said McDonald had flicked his folding knife open when Van Dyke pulled up.

McDonald was "planning to attack" again, Herbert said. "He's not trying to escape."

Laquan McDonald, right, walks down a Chicago street moments before being fatally shot by Van Dyke, in this Oct. 20, 2014 image taken from dash-cam video. (Chicago Police Department via AP)

He and McMahon both noted McDonald had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system.

But McMahon said Van Dyke didn't know that — or anything else about McDonald when he opened fire just six seconds after getting out of his squad car.

"What he did see was a black boy walking down a street with a chain link fence with the audacity to ignore the police," McMahon said.

Herbert took the prosecutor to task for bringing up race.

"The government wants to you think this is a racial issue," he told jurors. "Race had absolutely nothing to do with this."

Prosecutors have stressed that Van Dyke was the only officer to fire his gun, and the first person to testify was another officer who had pursued McDonald that night.

Officer Joseph McElligott said he got within 4.5 metres of McDonald, the same distance Van Dyke was when he shot the teen. He also said McDonald also stabbed the tire of the squad car his partner was driving and struck the window with the knife.

Race and Policing in Chicago

5 years ago
17:31
A shooting in Chicago unleashed protests by blacks there and a shift in how policing is done in that city. 17:31

McElligott never fired his gun, although he did at one point have it drawn. He testified that he thought his partner was protected and that someone was coming with a Taser that could be used to subdue McDonald.

"We were just trying to be patient," he said.

McElligott was down the street blocking traffic when Van Dyke arrived, and under cross-examination, McElligott said McDonald's later actions had increased the threat level.

Change of venue denied

Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct. Prosecutors on Monday dropped four counts of first-degree murder, but Van Dyke still faces two first-degree murder counts.

Some other officers at the scene have been charged with lying on their reports in what prosecutors say was an effort to cover up what happened to protect Van Dyke. They have yet to face trial.

Van Dyke is the the first Chicago police officer to face a murder charge for an on-duty incident in nearly five decades, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The deaths of mostly unarmed black men at the hands of police officers across the United States in recent years have led to protests and sometimes violence in major U.S. cities. The killings, some of which were captured on video, helped give rise to the Black Lives Matter movement and became an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Earlier Monday, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan decided against moving the trial from Chicago. Defence attorneys had argued that extensive publicity since the 2015 release of the video of the shooting makes it impossible to find impartial jurors needed for a fair trial. But attorneys were able to select a jury in less than a week.

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation that began after the video's release found that Chicago police routinely violated people's civil rights, citing excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct.

With files from Reuters

now