CHICAGO — With a jury waiting in the wings and attorneys polishing their case, the trial of Jason Van Dyke is set to begin Monday.
In a rare television interview, WGN News spoke with Tiffany Van Dyke, the wife of the Chicago police officer charged with murder.
The mother of two is convinced her husband was just doing his job when he shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014. She's nervous about potential prison time for her husband and blames Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for playing politics with Jason Van Dyke's life.
"They are missing the fact that he is a human being," Tiffany Van Dyke, 38, said. "He's just a man. He did his job. He did what he was trained to do by the city of Chicago."
She said her husband of 14 years is petrified about his impending murder trial, slated to begin Monday at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave. The case has displaced them from their home, forced them both to lose jobs and made them confront the harsh reality of possible prison time: Jason Van Dyke faces a minimum of 45 years if convicted of murder.
It's hard to swallow for a couple that has two daughters, aged 12 and 16.
"They know the outcome is that their father may never come home after this," Tiffany Van Dyke said. "My daughter is a junior. He may never see her graduate high school. Weddings. Grandkids. ... They get it. They get the seriousness."
The officer's wife said she remembers that 2014 evening like it was yesterday: "I sat next to him on the couch. I looked at him and he was crying. I said to him, 'Did you do your job?' And he said yes. 'What you were trained to do?' Yes. I said, 'That's all I need to know.'"
She continued: "You learn not to ask. As a police officer's wife, you do. You learn not to ask the questions."
Tiffany Van Dyke said she can't believe her husband is accused of racism or being trigger-happy. Her brother-in-law is African-American. Her step-mother is Hispanic. And this was her husband's first time firing his gun on the job after 14 years on the force. He worked in some of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods over the years.
"He did not know going into that incident what race that young man was," she said. "He did not know he was coming up on an African-American male. He knew he was coming up on a male wielding a knife, high on drugs. He was out there to protect and serve. It had nothing to do with race."
She insists her husband is not a murder. She believes Emanuel and police brass are playing politics with her husband's life.
"Straight politics," she said. "From the top man himself, down to the brass. Rahm Emanuel. Anita Alvarez. ... He's a political scapegoat for the city of Chicago."
Tiffany Van Dyke said she's scared and angry, and is simply trying to take things one day at a time. She will be by her husband's side each day in court and wants to be present for her children.
If her husband walks free following the high-profile, racially charged trial, she knows one thing: "We won't be safe here. ... I have to pick up and leave, leave all of our family, leave all of our friends, and start over. And in my eyes, as long as I have my husband standing by my side, that's all I need."
Jason Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery with a firearm. According to prosecutors, McDonald was stealing car radios and was armed with a 3-inch blade when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a radio request for a Taser on Oct. 20, 2014. An autopsy later revealed McDonald had PCP in his system.
Van Dyke and his partner responded to the call, but never specified whether they had a Taser. Within seconds of arriving on the scene, Van Dyke pulled his gun and emptied his magazine into McDonald, shooting the teen 16 times. Video of the shooting, which was released via court order in November 2015, sparked massive protests.