CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers for a white Chicago police officer charged with first-degree murder in the 2014 shooting death of a black 17-year-old are seeking access to the teen’s juvenile records.
The lawyers for Officer Jason Van Dyke said in a written request only that their inspection of Laquan McDonald’s juvenile records was necessary as they prepared to defend Van Dyke, the Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/29A2vqX ) Wednesday. The request was filed last month.
The attorneys declined further comment to the newspaper. They say the judge presiding over the officer’s criminal case imposed a gag order preventing them from discussing the case publicly.
The judge who presides over the juvenile court’s child protection division will rule on the request.
National Association of Counsel for Children executive director Kendall Marlowe told the Tribune that the request appears to be an attempt to shift blame for the shooting onto the teen.
“We keep child abuse records confidential to protect victims,” said Marlowe, whose Denver-based organization works to improve the quality of legal representation of children. “Those records weren’t created to serve the interests of perpetrators. For a defense attorney to mine the history of a child’s victimization, to paint the child as a violent sociopath who deserved to die is the very definition of why these records should not be disclosed.”
But criminal defense attorneys told the Tribune the judge has the discretion to allow some of McDonald’s history if it is deemed relevant.
According to published reports that cite records made public at media outlets’ request, McDonald spent most of his 17 years as a ward of the state. The records show repeated school suspensions, expulsions, truancies and several drug possession arrests.
Police dashcam video of the October 2014 confrontation contradicted accounts of other officers on the scene that McDonald, who was holding a knife, lunged at Van Dyke. The first-degree murder charge in Van Dyke’s case was announced just hours before the video became public in November after a judge ordered its release. The video set off protests that forced steps toward more openness and sweeping changes in the police department.
Attorney Daniel Herbert has said Van Dyke feared for his and other officers’ safety when he opened fire at McDonald.
Besides Van Dyke, no other officers have been charged.
The request from Van Dyke’s attorneys came after a judge ruled last month that attorneys for the city of Ferguson and other defendants in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Michael Brown’s parents can have access to juvenile records involving the black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014.
Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com