CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke spent about an hour in custody on Thursday before walking out of jail a free man again, after a Cook County judge ruled he’d violated a court order not to publicly discuss his murder case.
Judge Vincent Gaughan increased Van Dyke’s $1.5 million bail by $2,000 earlier Thursday, ruling the officer violated a “lawful decorum order” prohibiting anyone associated with the case from speaking publicly about it.
Special Prosecutor Joseph McMahon and his team had asked Gaughan to revoke or increase Van Dyke’s bail after he gave interviews to the Chicago Tribune and WFLD-TV last week.
“Was this interview a violation of the condition of bail? Yes it was,” Gaughan said.
Prosecutors also have asked Gaughan to rule Van Dyke in contempt of court over the interviews, but the judge has said he will not rule on that request until the end of the officer’s upcoming murder trial in the 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald.
Courtroom deputies took Van Dyke into custody at the end of Thursday’s hearing, and after posting the $200 cash required for his release, Van Dyke walked out of Cook County Jail shortly after noon, escorted by a group of uniformed Chicago police officers.
Defense attorneys said Van Dyke was just trying to protect his family by exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. They said, after being silent for years, he made a sudden decision to speak out last week.
“Court was not in session when this decision was made, when he made this little talk, so we couldn’t come to court and ask for relief,” defense attorney Randy Rueckert said.
Assistant Special Prosecutor Joe Cullen said the decorum order clearly prohibited Van Dyke from talking to the press about the case, especially potential testimony.
In questioning a media representative for Van Dyke during Thursday’s hearing, prosecutors pointed out Van Dyke said he never would have shot McDonald if he didn’t fear for his life, and was worried about possibly “spending the rest of my life in prison for doing my job as I was trained as a Chicago police officer.”
“It can’t possibly be more clear that he’s attempting to, in the press, try the case and present his case; claiming, in the press, that he was acting in self-defense. He’s trying to testify in the press without being cross-examined,” assistant special prosecutor Joe Cullen said.
While Gaughan agreed the interviews were a violation the terms of Van Dyke’s bond, he said he would not speculate whether they were an attempt to influence the potential juror pool. The interviews took place just days before jury selection started.
A pool of 200 potential jurors were given questionnaires on Wednesday to kick off the jury selection process.
“Questions about their personal lives, their beliefs, what magazines they read, what television shows they watch, whether or not they own a gun, whether or not they’re members of the NRA,” CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said. “All to get into their heads to see if there’s a bias there that could hurt one side or the other.”
Gaughan will begin questioning potential jurors in private on Monday.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the courthouse as jury selection began, many of them saying jurors should factor in how the public feels about justice when they weigh the decision about their verdict.
Van Dyke’s attorneys have asked for a change of venue, arguing the officer cannot get a fair trial from a Cook County jury. Gaughan has said he won’t rule on that request until after jury selection begins. Van Dyke could still opt for a bench trial.