CHICAGO -- Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke gave his first interview since being charged with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The interview comes less than one week before he's scheduled to stand trial for murder.
Van Dyke was charged with murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery in the October 2014 slaying of McDonald. McDonald was allegedly stealing car radios with a knife when police were called to the scene in Archer Heights. A dashcam video shows Van Dyke shooting the teen 16 times. The video sparked massive protests and efforts at police reform.
Van Dyke gave an emotional interview to a Chicago Tribune reporter for about 40 minutes Tuesday. It was the first time he made public comments in the nearly four years since he fatally shot McDonald.
He called the night of the shooting the worst day of his career, and said he prays for McDonald's family every day.
“I pray every day for McDonald’s family," Van Dyke told the Tribune. “I offer up a rosary every day.”
Van Dyke started crying when he spoke about the possibility of spending life in prison, and said it's unfortunate because he was responding how he was trained.
“Of course, I’m extremely nervous. I might be looking at the possibility of spending the rest of my life in prison for doing my job as I was trained as a Chicago police officer," he said.
That October night in 2014 was the first time Van Dyke said he ever fired his gun in the line of duty.
McDonald had traces of PCP in his system and was allegedly breaking car windows as a swarm of officers descended. Dashcam video shows he was unresponsive to officers’ demands to drop a knife he was carrying.
“It is a very serious threat to the officers. He leaves them no choice at that point but to defend himself,” Pat Camden, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman, said about the events at the scene of the shooting that night.
The video, released more than a year after the shooting, told a different story.
Van Dyke and his attorney refused to talk about the decision to fire or any other details of that night.
But Van Dyke told the Tribune: “Nobody wants to shoot their gun. I never would have fired my gun if I didn’t think my life was in jeopardy or another citizen’s life was. It’s something you have to live with forever.”
Van Dyke said he is not a racist, and claims politics has been part of the aftermath. He called the shooting his “darkest day.”
“It was certainly the darkest day in the end of the life of Laquan McDonald. So it’s important to remember who the victim is here,” Jeff Neslund, the attorney for the estate of Laquan McDonald, said.
As he awaits trial, Van Dyke looked back at his career.
“I think I was a great police officer,” Van Dyke told the Tribune. “I always made efforts to treat everybody fairly and with respect and the way I wanted my own family to be treated.”
“It looks like another obvious attempt to influence your potential jurors just days before you are going to pick a jury,” Neslund said.
There is a sealed gag order in the case. How Van Dyke’s interviews impact that or the judge’s wishes remains to be seen. Judge Vincent is not in court this week.
Jury selection begins next week. Van Dyke's team has requested the trial be held outside of Cook County.