Jason Van Dyke trial timeline: arguments of the defense

On October 20th, 2014, officers were called to Archer Heights, reporting a 17-year-old African-American male, Laquan McDonald, breaking into vehicles and whom authorities say was armed with a knife. Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived at the scene, fatally shooting McDonald 16 times. The ambulance arrived and took McDonald to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Cook County judge ruled that the Chicago Police Department must release the graphic dashboard video on November 19th, 2015.  State’s attorney Anita Alvarez faced backlash after a prolonged wait of Van Dyke’s charges finalized only on November 24th, 2015—13 months after the incident occurred.

Protesters filled Michigan Avenue on November 26th, 2015, and announced their plans to conduct 16 days of demonstrations for the number of times that McDonald was fatally shot. Protests continued into the next month, as protesters interrupted hearing of the case at City Hall. Protesters called on Anita Alvarez to resign as Cook County’s state’s attorney during a march on Mag Mile on Christmas.

The official trial began on September 17th, prosecution has finished presenting their statements last Thursday (you can read our detailed coverage online: This week, the trial resumed with the defense presenting their arguments.

Monday, September 24th

• Shaku Teas, a forensic pathologist, took the stand Monday morning to testify that the bullet that hit McDonald in the chest was the one that killed him and said he “would bleed out pretty rapidly” from the wound.

• In addition, Dr. Teas also testified that that gunshot wound #2 occurred while McDonald was at least partially facing Jason Van Dyke. She says it was the first or second shot to occur.

• Next to the stand, was Cook County Sheriff, Officer Jospeh Plaud, who encountered McDonald in the lockup at Juvenile Courthouse in August 2013. Plaud says McDonald hit his partner in the stomach while being moved to another cell. With this testimony, the defense seeks to prove that McDonald was a violent, out-of-control teen.

• Tyler Sage, former Westmont Police Officer with the Rapid Response team at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center also described an encounter with Laquan McDonald in April 2014, when he resisted being taken back to his pod for the night.

• Miguel DeJesus, an employee at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, describes his encounter with Laquan McDonald in January 2014. DeJesus said McDonald admitted to being on PCP, and struggled to put him in isolation.

Tuesday, September 25th

• On Tuesday morning, the defense presented a “laser-based analysis,” showing the jurors a different view of the police dashboard camera video that was released. In this animation, it depicted McDonald walking parallel to Van Dyke. The animation also showed perspective from behind Van Dyke’s shoulder, where he opened fire as McDonald closed 13ft with a small knife.

• Judge Gaughan stopped evidence of the CTA card belonging to a veteran, found on McDonalds body shortly after arriving at Mount Sinai Hospital. The defense claimed that the card supported evidence that the teen was on a wild rampage. Judge Gaughan called the evidence “weak” and was unclear as to who took the CTA card from McDonald’s body and gave it to police. Gaughan said, “Being on the CTA and taking multiple rides doesn’t prove anything.”

• Yvette Paterson took the stand to describe her encounter with McDonald the night of his death. Patterson explained that McDonald had asked to use her car—as McDonald’s aunt lived next door. Patterson confirmed that McDonald was not aggressive and she called the police only “because it was dark” and she “didn’t know him.” Patterson did not file a complaint and no arrests were made that night pertaining to this case.

• Probation officer Dina Randazzo took the stand to testify on behalf of McDonald’s aggressive behavior. Randazzo told jurors that McDonald was aggressive with sheriff deputies at the juvenile center. Randazzo also confirmed that McDonald had complained about sheriff deputies punching him below the belt.

Wednesday, September 26th

• Officer Leticia Velez, who was also called on the scene, testified that McDonald “actually got very close,” and looked “deranged,” the night he was killed. She continued, stating that McDonald was unfazed by the police and the sirens and just continued to look straight ahead. Velez also suspected him of having a weapon as he was holding his hands on his sides.

• Velez stated that on-scene officer’s call for help sounded “very serious,” and that they requested an officer with a taser. Neither Velez nor her partner had a taser on them.

• Velez and her partner believed that McDonald had a gun, but later learned he was not carrying a gun.

• Prosecutor Jody Gleason questioned Velez on if she had pulled out her gun that night; Gleason noted that Velez memory was suddenly “fuzzy.” Velez says, “It’s muscle memory. If there’s somebody with a gun you’re going to take out your gun.”

• Velez contended that she did in fact see Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, search McDonald after the shooting.

• Truck driver Rudy Barillas arrived to the courthouse and testified that he had seen a black man around 5’6 in the same lot he had pulled his truck in. He stated, “I told him I was going to call the police if he didn’t leave,” Barillas confirmed that he made the tip to 911 shortly after.

• Prosecution noted that McDonald was in fact over 6 ft. tall.

• Barillas states that the man (who is allegedly McDonald) tried to stab him but he fled once Barillas threw gravel and his cellphone at the man to get him to go away. He confirmed that McDonald had left the lot.

• Jakki Alexander, another employee at Cook County Juvenile detention center, described her encounter with McDonald. She stated that she was called in because McDonald refused to enter his cell. She recalled him threatening to beat up other employees of the detention center.

• Yolanda Syre, attorney for CPD, told jurors that she helped officers, including Van Dyke, understand Illinois use of force law. The law states “it is justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm only when he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or such other person” or when “such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape” and “the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony which involves the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay.”

• Syre confirms that knives, guns and baseballs bats are considered to be deadly weapons under this law.

• Prosecutor Weiler, during cross-examination, questioned Syre on how the law uses words such as “necessary” and “reasonable” numerous times. Sayre acknowledges that it is ultimately the responsibility of the officer to decide if use of force is necessary and reasonable in the situation.

• Jeremy Stayton, the surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital who operated on McDonald, told jurors that he had no vital signs, no heartbeat or pulse. He continued stating that McDonald could not be helped even if he was in closer proximity to the hospital or doctors.

• The prosecution questioned if McDonald died of a damaged pulmonary artery caused by a gunshot. He responded “If he didn’t have that pulmonary artery injury, I don’t know whether he would have survived or not,” Stayton said. “If he had just that injury, he would have died, 99 percent chance.”

Thursday, September 27th

• Attorney for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, Renee Popovits, challenged a subpoena from Van Dyke’s lawyers for records about McDonald, pointing that the records could only be turned over if there is no other way to get the information, and if the public interest outweighs the potential damage to the patient, McDonald. Defense attorney Randy Rueckert insisted there was no other way to get the information contained in the records, also emphasizing that “the public interest is much more important right now than the deceased.” Judge Gaughan agreed, and ordered to show McDonald’s history of drug use report to the jury.

• After a long conference behind closed doors, Judge Vincent Gaughan said the defense would not be allowed to show jurors a series of police training videos, as well as to call a former case worker of McDonald, who was supposed to testify about the investigation into McDonald’s uncle.

• According to pathologist Shaku Teas, the test that revealed the PCP in McDonald’s system likely would have been diluted, meaning the true level could have been even higher. Cook County Medical Examiner Ponni Arunkumar previously told jurors that McDonald had enough of the drug in his system to cause visual disturbances, drowsiness, agitation, hallucinations, aggressiveness and other symptoms.

• Nicholas Pappas, who worked as a CPD firearms instructor, officers are taught to “immediately” reload a gun after a magazine is depleted. Pappas also said the officers were taught that knives are deadly weapons — and can even be more deadly than a gun because they can go through a bullet-proof vest. Finally, Pappas said officers were taught to “shoot until the threat is eliminated.”

The defense will continue to present their evidence on Monday. Check back for updates on

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