CHICAGO — A judge decided not to jail a Chicago police officer and ordered him to pay only $200 on Thursday for giving media interviews that the judge said were a violation of a court order not to talk publicly about why he shot a teenager 16 times in 2014.
Officer Jason Van Dyke swiftly paid the additional bail to remain free as jury selection is just beginning in his politically-charged first-degree murder trial in the death of Laquan McDonald.
Judge Vincent Gaughan increased Van Dyke’s bail by $2,000 from the $1.5 million paid previously in what amounted to a minor sanction, because Van Dyke only had to pay 10 percent of the $2,000, or $200, which he did immediately.
In the interviews, Van Dyke said that he shot McDonald because he feared for his life and the lives of other officers at the scene and that he acted as he was trained.
A video of the shooting released in November 2015 shows Van Dyke opened fire as McDonald walked away from police with a knife in his hand. The release of the video sparked large protests, the ouster of the police superintendent and demands for police reform.
Prosecutor Joseph Cullen told a court hearing Thursday that interviews given by Van Dyke were an attempt by the officer to get his version of events out in public “without being cross-examined.”
But one of Van Dyke’s defense attorneys, Randy Rueckert, said that the officer had not given interviews since 2015 while an avalanche of media coverage portrayed him as the “white cop who shot a black teenager.” He spoke just before the trial started to get his version to the public.
Judge Gaughan said he would not discuss whether Van Dyke’s interviews “contaminated the jury pool.”
On Wednesday, prospective jurors were called to court, where they were given questionnaires to fill out. Attorneys are expected to begin questioning the prospective jurors early next week.
Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct. He has pleaded not guilty; his attorneys have contended that he was in fear for his life.