The white Chicago police officer who shot to death a black teenager in 2014 told jurors at his murder trial on Tuesday that he felt threatened when he opened fire, as he took the witness stand in his own defense.
Jason Van Dyke, 40, is accused of shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times and faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated battery and official misconduct in a case that has focused attention on race relations and policing in the third-largest U.S. city.
He is the first Chicago police officer to face a murder charge for an on-duty incident in decades.
Wiping tears away at times, Van Dyke testified that McDonald “never stopped” advancing toward Van Dyke, getting about 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters) away from him.
“His face had no expression,” Van Dyke said under questioning from his lawyer. “His eyes were buggin’ out.”
McDonald waved his knife and was still holding the knife when he fell to the ground, Van Dyke said, adding that he shot at the knife. Van Dyke said he did not know how many shots he fired at the time and stopped shooting when McDonald fell.
“I’m yelling at him, ‘Drop that knife,’” Van Dyke said. “I just wanted him to get rid of that knife.”
Prosecutors have said Van Dyke was not justified in shooting McDonald. Jurors have repeatedly viewed a video of the incident, which prosecutors have argued clearly shows that McDonald was not moving toward Van Dyke at the time he began firing.
The public release of the video, which came after a journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, sparked days of protests in Chicago.
Van Dyke’s lawyers have portrayed McDonald as an unruly, threatening criminal who was under the influence of drugs.
Van Dyke also told jurors he had drawn his gun several times in his career but had never fired his gun in the line of duty before the Oct. 20, 2014 incident. “I’m very proud of that,” he said.
The testimony came during the trial’s third week. The 12-person jury includes one black member.
Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Joseph Ax, Matthew Lewis and Bill Berkrot