A Chicago police officer charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald can’t skip any court hearings, a Cook County judge said Thursday.
Jason Van Dyke’s lawyer had argued that Van Dyke shouldn’t be forced to attend hearings because he has been verbally abused and physically jostled by protesters when he comes to court.
Owen Van Dyke, the officer’s 75-year-old father, testified on Thursday that he and his son had rented cars to attend hearings so protesters wouldn’t spot them.
But Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled Van Dyke must keep attending the hearings. The judge promised to beef up courthouse security.
“We have to craft another system so that we’ll have this protection, which will not infringe upon the First Amendment and which will prevent Mr. Van Dyke from being subjected to the things that are outlined in the harassment statute,” Gaughan said.
Bradley Curry, a Cook County sheriff’s official in charge of courthouse security, testified that the number of protesters has decreased since Van Dyke’s first court appearance.
“I’m not aware of any protesters out front or trying to get into the building,” Curry said.
Richard Kling, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said judges in more-routine cases sometimes waive court appearances for defendants — for instance people who have to care for a sick relative or can’t afford to miss work. He said Thursday’s ruling is an example of the complexities that high-profile cases pose for judges.
“I would be willing to bet [Gaughan] doesn’t want the public to perceive that Mr. Van Dyke is getting some kind of preferential treatment,” Kling said.
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg, who defended Drew Peterson, added that defendants in high-profile cases normally are not out on bond.
Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder in the October 2014 shooting of McDonald. The officer shot the teen 16 times — an incident captured on video and broadcast around the world.
Van Dyke contends he acted in self-defense and has pleaded not guilty.
The Associated Press and WBEZ reporter Dan Weissmann contributed to this story.
Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.