The Chicago Police Officer who killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald plead not guilty in court on Tuesday.
According to the Chicago Tribune, 37-year-old Jason Van Dyke entered the plea in a short hearing to strategically quell media attention in the courtroom.
Van Dyke, and the broader Chicago Police Department has been under national scrutiny over the past month following the release of video footage of Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times while the teen was walking away on October 20, 2014.
Public outrage followed both in response to the brutality of the footage and to the actions taken by officials to impede the video’s release. The New York Times reported that freelance journalist Brandon Smith filed a lawsuit for the video to be released under the Freedom of Information Act in August. In November, a judge ruled in Smith’s favor, and, after 13 months, Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder.
Recent officer-involved shootings that resulted in the deaths of 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier and 55-year-old Bettie Jones after Christmas have only further indicted the CPD.
However, the judge presiding over the Van Dyke’s case will decide whether this will set a precedent of police accountability.
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughn who was assigned to the case has also worked on other high-profile cases. Gaughn presided over R&B singer R. Kelly’s infamous 2008 trial in which he was acquitted for child pornography charges. The judge did not open the trial proceedings to the media, citing, for the sake of Kelly, the need to maintain a fair trial, the Tribune reported.
While media restrictions 2008 case was in response to “celebrity-obsessed culture,” more than media attention is at stake with Van Dyke. The former officer has the option to choose between a bench or a jury trial. The former option would mean that Gaughn would decide Van Dyke’s fate directly.
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