For Laughing Courtroom Spectator, Judge Orders Jail Time And Sanity Test | WBEZ
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For Laughing Courtroom Spectator, Judge Orders Jail Time And Sanity Test

The judge in the murder case against Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke has ordered a courtroom spectator who made a strange laughing sound during a hearing last Thursday to be jailed for more than five weeks and subjected to a sanity test.

The two-second outburst took place after Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan called for a recess and was stepping toward his chambers.

Gaughan ordered courtroom deputies to take the spectator into custody. After the hearing, the judge had him brought back out. Standing before Gaughan, the man squinted and appeared confused.

The judge entered a finding of direct criminal contempt and ordered him jailed without bond until a July 10 hearing.

Gaughan also ordered the circuit court’s Forensic Clinical Services unit to examine the man for his fitness to stand trial and his sanity.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said she could not comment on the spectator’s mental health but admitted the man might have been showing disrespect for the judge.

“Now does that warrant custody for 40 days?” Campanelli asked. “That’s what I have a problem with.”

Campanelli said her office is considering bringing motions for a hearing to set bond and for an appellate order freeing the man.

“We’re doing everything we can to see if we can get him released,” she said.

The man, 59, lives on Chicago’s Northwest Side. His mother, who lives in Indiana, said he has struggled with bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. She said he spent May 12-15 of this year in a hospital psychiatric unit. WBEZ, out of respect for his health privacy, is not naming him.

Over the last three decades, according to Cook County court records, the man has been arrested 12 times on misdemeanor charges including battery, assault, trespassing, property damage, harassment, retail theft, and disorderly conduct. The records show convictions in two of those cases. In both, he was sentenced to supervision.

Cara Smith, Sheriff Tom Dart’s policy chief, said correctional staff members evaluated the man and put him in a mental-health section of the jail’s infirmary.

“The jail contacted the public defender’s office with concerns about his case and the length of time before the next court date,” Smith said.

Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who shot Laquan McDonald in October 2014, was charged with first-degree murder in November 2015.

Judge Gaughan has now jailed spectators for direct contempt during at least three Van Dyke hearings.

Some Van Dyke proceedings, compared to other cases, have drawn large numbers of observers. The judge has warned he will not allow “mob rule” in the courtroom and has said his aim is a fair trial in this highly publicized case. At the start of each hearing, a sheriff’s deputy reads a Gaughan warning against outbursts by spectators.

The judge has also frequently threatened contempt findings against lawyers in the case, once even ordering a sheriff’s deputy to stand near Van Dyke’s lead attorney.

Chip Mitchell reports on criminal justice from WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.

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