The white Chicago police officer who shot dead black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 claimed on Tuesday that the 17-year-old was ‘bugging out of his head’ when he shot him 16 times.
Jason Van Dyke, 40, finally took to the stand in his long-awaited murder trial in Chicago on Tuesday to defend killing the teenager four years ago in a crime which fueled racial debate and anger over police treatment of black men across America.
He claimed that McDonald, who had been reported to police for breaking into a truck, stared at him vacantly moments before he opened fire.
Painting the teenager as unpredictable and dangerous, he said through tears: ‘His eyes were just bugging out of his head.
‘He had just these huge white eyes just staring right through me.’
Later, he said dashcam footage which showed him shooting the teenager even as he lay on the ground ‘does not show his perspective’.
He also said he thought he was ‘backpedaling’ when he was seen walking towards the teenager.
Jason Van Dyke, 40, wept at times on the witness stand on Tuesday as he recalled shooting dead black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014. He claimed McDonald was ‘bugging out’ and had ‘huge white eyes’ at the time
‘He waved his knife from his lower left side upwards, across his body towards my left shoulder.
Making repeated mention of the teenager’s hoodie, he then admitted to shooting at his knife as he was lying on the ground after being hit.
Laquan McDonald was 17 at the time. He had been reported to police for stealing vans. Van Dyke and another officer who responded to the scene both described him as behaving in a ‘deranged’ way
‘All I could see was him starting to push up with his left hand off the ground.
‘I still see him holding his knife in his right hand, eyes still bugging out of his face, still showing no expression.
‘I just kept on looking at the knife and I shot at it. I just wanted him to get rid of that knife,’ he said.
Earlier, a psychologist testified that Van Dyke told him after the shooting how he believed he would ‘have to’ shoot the teenager before even arriving at the crime scene.
Dr. Laurence Miller told the court Van Dyke had told him that he had told his partner on the way to the scene that he thought they would have to shoot the teen and wondered why the other officers there, who had called asking for backup with a Taser, hadn’t shot the youngster themselves.
The psychologist however said it was a ‘reasonable response’ because Van Dyke genuinely believed his life was in danger.
Elsewhere, he said he ordered the teenager to drop his knife but was ignored.
A postmortem examination carried out in 2015 confirmed the teenager had PCP in his system.
The defense seized on that discovery with a pharmacology expert who said it likely explained the descriptions given by the cops.
An animated video portraying Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke and Laquan McDonald was it’s shown to the jury last week and sparked outrage among critics who said it was inaccurate and favorable of the cop
Dashcam footage shows the actual scene of the crime on October 20, 2014
‘He was impaired, he was intoxicated and there’s a slang term, he’s whacked on this PCP at the time of his death,’ James Thomas O’Donnell told the court last week.
Van Dyke, who arrived to court last week with his wife wearing matching bulletproof vests, maintains that he ordered McDonald to drop the knife several times before shooting him.
One of the other officers who was present on the night of the shooting described McDonald as ‘deranged’ earlier in the week.
‘There was nothing that was actually fazing him. He was just, like, in a twilight,’ officer Letizia Velez, said.
Van Dyke left the court on Tuesday again wearing a bullet proof vest. On Wednesday, the defense will rest
She also argued that dashcam video of the shooting did not tell ‘the full story’ because ‘it doesn’t show’ the teenager’s face. It doesn’t show the look in his eye.’
Van Dyke was one of four cops there when he shot the teenager dead. None of the other police officers fired their weapons and three, including one who received immunity in exchange for testifying against Van Dyke.
The defense was strongly criticized last week for using a video recreation of the killing to help its case.
The video was selective in details. It showed Van Dyke shooting the teenager five times, when it was in fact 16.
It also showed McDonald dressed all in black when he was in fact wearing jeans, and left off Van Dyke’s bulletproof vest.
Before the trial began, Van Dyke said the case was ‘political’ and argued that he was ‘just doing his job’ at the time.
On Tuesday, he said he was ‘extremely proud’ of the fact that he had never shot anyone before the teenager.