CHICAGO – An expert on police use of deadly force testified Thursday that a black teenager who was killed by a white Chicago police officer in 2014 did not "pose a risk of serious injury or death" to anyone when the officer opened fire.
The testimony from Urey Patrick, a former Naval officer and FBI agent who now is a law-enforcement consultant, was the most direct support yet of prosecutors' argument that the shooting was unnecessary. Attorneys for Officer Jason Van Dyke have argued that he was afraid for his life and acted according to his training when he shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. And he was one of the last witnesses of the day and, it turned out, one of the last witnesses before prosecutors announced that they were resting their case.
"My assessment of the situation was that the risk posed by Mr. McDonald did not rise to the necessity of using deadly force to stop it," Patrick said.
Patrick said he relied primarily on squad car video of the shooting. He pointed to a number of factors that led to his conclusion, starting with the fact that McDonald was walking away and not toward Van Dyke when the officer fired the first shot.
"Mr. McDonald was armed with a knife, [but] to harm somebody with a knife you have to be within reach of him," Patrick said.
Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in decades to be charged with murder for an on-duty shooting. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Prosecutors have stressed that no other officers who encountered McDonald opened fire. Patrick suggested that the other officers were acting properly in the moments leading up to the shooting. He pointed out that officers had followed McDonald in squad cars and had been successful in keeping him confined to an area where there were no people walking or driving by. According to testimony, officers were waiting for someone to arrive with a Taser to subdue McDonald.
Patrick also suggested that it was not necessary to keep firing once McDonald fell to the ground.
"They're not trained to just empty their gun" he said. He later added, "They're trained to shoot until the risk is ended."
With prosecutors announcing they were resting, Van Dyke's attorney asked the judge for what is called a directed verdict of not guilty, meaning the judge would tell jurors they had to acquit. Dan Herbert argued that the case should be dismissed because prosecutors had not shown that Van Dyke intended to murder the teenager. But Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan denied Herbert's motion and then brought the jurors back into the courtroom, where prosecutors announced they were resting their case and Gaughan told said the defense case will begin on Monday.
Van Dyke's attorneys have the option of resting their case without calling a single witness. Also, Van Dyke has the right to testify, but he's not obligated to do so. His attorneys have not said whether they intend to call him to the witness stand.