Lawyer of Chicago officer charged with murder says video 'distorts images'

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 25, 2015 9:04 AM

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The lawyer for a white Chicago police officer charged with murdering a black teenager said on Wednesday his client feared for his life and that footage from a patrol car camera released this week is unreliable because video "distorts images."

The lawyer, Daniel Herbert, told CNN that on Oct. 20, 2014 Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on a street on the southwest side of Chicago 18 minutes after a suspect carrying a knife was reported to have threatened businesses and vandalized police cruisers.

Prosecutors said on Tuesday that Van Dyke shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times and started shooting just six seconds after emerging from his patrol car, emptying his gun at McDonald and preparing to reload.

Van Dyke's lawyer said on CNN that the dashboard camera video, released by the city on Tuesday 13 months after the shooting, was not an indicator of his client's guilt.

"Video by its nature is two-dimensional. It distorts images. So what appears to be clear on a video sometimes is not always that clear," Herbert said. He said Van Dyke "truly was in fear for his life as well as the lives of his fellow police officers."

Authorities said McDonald was carrying a pocket knife and had the hallucinogenic drug PCP in his system.

Chicago was tense but peaceful on Tuesday night after the announcement by prosecutors that Van Dyke had been charged with first-degree murder and the city released the video to comply with a court order.

Five people were arrested during protests, police said, but on Wednesday a felony charge was dropped against Malcolm X. London, 22, a Chicago poet and activist accused of striking a police officer.

Van Dyke was being held in protective custody at a hospital facility away from the general population of Cook County Jail, the county sheriff's office said. It said it could not disclose any medical reasons.

Among the comments posted on the Chicago Police Department's Facebook page were some asking people not to judge all officers by the actions of one.

The Chicago shooting charges followed more than a year of widely publicized deaths of mostly unarmed black men at the hands of police officers across the United States, including in New York; Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore and North Charleston, South Carolina.

Some of the killings were also caught on camera, fueling public outrage that led to nationwide protests over police use of deadly force. The uproar and a national debate on race relations was a factor in the rise of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, which has become an issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Two of the best-known candidates commented on the Chicago shooting charges.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on CNN that while rising violence in big cities makes it hard to be a police officer, "when they do what appears to have happened here, they should be charged, as was the case in this case."

Democratic Party front-runner Hillary Clinton said in a statement that as criminal charges proceed, "we also have to grapple as a country with broader questions about ensuring that all our citizens and communities are protected and respected."

She said there were police officers all over the United States "honorably doing their duty, demonstrating how to protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force."


The release of the video has been controversial because it took so long. It was made public only after an independent journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The police department had argued that releasing the video would taint multiple investigations.

Members of the Chicago City Council's black caucus demanded the resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

"We want McCarthy gone. We want new leadership," Alderman Roderick Sawyer said at a news conference.

Alderman Howard Brookins said the council, which signed off on a $5 million city settlement with McDonald's family even before a lawsuit was filed, was misled about the content of the tape. Brookins said council members were told something was "fuzzy, something grey" about it.

Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer to face a murder charge for an on-duty incident in decades.

The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 union is raising money for Van Dyke to be released on bond. At a brief court hearing on Tuesday, a judge denied bond for Van Dyke.

(Additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Angela Moon and Melissa Fares in New York; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)