An expert on police-involved shootings on officers has been cleared to testify in the murder trial of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke.
On October 20, 2014, Chicago police officers responded to reports of someone breaking into vehicles. The responding officers found 17-year-old Laquan McDonald behaving erratically and holding a knife. McDonald did not respond to police commands to drop the knife.
Officer Jason Van Dyke arrived on the scene and opened fire on McDonald. Dashcam video footage showed that Van Dyke began shooting at McDonald within seconds of exiting his vehicle while McDonald was walking away from the officers. McDonald was shot 16 times. He died enroute to the hospital.
The video of the shooting caused a public outcry resulting in the firing of then-police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in connection with McDonald’s death. Van Dyke is the first Chicago police officer in decades to face a first-degree murder charge in connection with an on-duty fatality. Van Dyke maintains that he shot McDonald in self-defense, fearing that McDonald was a threat to his life.
Dr. Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist, was retained by the defense to testify on Van Dyke’s behalf. Miller specializes in psychotherapy, neuropsychology, forensic psychology, and business psychology. Miller’s Psychology Today profile lists him as having “special expertise in working with law enforcement and emergency service personnel (police, firefighters, medics) and with crime victims and their families.” Miller is the police psychologist for the West Palm Beach Police Department, a mental health consultant for the Florida Highway Patrol, a forensic psychological examiner for the Palm Beach County Court, and a consulting psychologist with several regional and national law enforcement agencies.
Dr. Miller conducted a psychological evaluation of Van Dyke on April 1, 2016. Van Dyke’s defense team wants Miller to testify about the effect of police-involved shootings on officers, including “alterations in perceptions, thinking, behavior and memory.”
The special prosecutor, Joseph McMahon, sought to bar Dr. Miller from testifying at trial. The prosecution argued that the defense was trying to bring out issues through Dr. Miller that should only be addressed by Van Dyke if he chooses to take the stand in his own defense. McMahon argued that Van Dyke can take the witness stand to address his state of mind at the time of the shooting. He wrote, “The jury does not need the assistance of an expert in determining the actions that took place on October 20, 2014. . . The jury will have an opportunity to view the video of the shooting.” He stated, “the jury does not need (him) to tell them what thoughts were going through the defendant’s mind before and during the shooting, because only the defendant can know that information. . . . Any testimony related by (Miller) in that regard is inadmissible, self-serving hearsay.”
Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled that Dr. Miller will be allowed to testify about “the ultimate issue,” which is Van Dyke’s state of mind during the shooting.