What was in Van Dyke’s head when he shot McDonald? Defense shrink to testify

What was going on in Jason Van Dyke’s head when he shot Laquan McDonald? Jurors may not get to hear the answers from Van Dyke himself — but they will get an expert opinion when the trial resumes Tuesday.

Whether Van Dyke will testify in his own defense remains an open question as the defense prepares to wind up its case this week. The trial stalled Monday, which would have been the ninth day of testimony, because a sick juror was unable to make it to court, and Judge Vincent Gaughan opted to send the rest of the jury home.

When testimony resumes, Van Dyke’s defense has only two witnesses remaining, based on court filings and statements made during the trial: an expert on police use of force and a psychologist who specializes in police shootings.

In what could be key testimony, the defense intends to call Laurence Miller, a Florida-based psychologist who has written several books focused both on the role of psychology in police work and helping officers cope with traumatic events. In opening statements, lead defense lawyer Daniel Herbert told jurors they would hear from an expert on the physiological and psychological experience of police officers.

Miller, writing about police shootings in his 2008 book “METTLE: Mental Toughness Training for Law Enforcement,” said that police officers experience “alterations in perception, thinking and behavior” during moments of “extreme emergency stress.” Those alterations include a feeling of “time distortion,” specifically that time is moving in “slow motion” during a shooting, and that officers may also experience “tunnel vision,” an intense focus on the offender or his weapon.

In a January 2015 column for the website PoliceOne.com, Miller wrote more extensively about the law and training around police use of force, offering a hypothetical scenario that resembles Van Dyke’s decision to fire 16 shots at McDonald. Citing a “rule” for officers’ use of deadly force, Miller explains “… do not use deadly force unless there is absolutely no choice — but once the decision has been made, be sure the force is as deadly as possible, as quickly as possible.

“If you shoot a charging suspect four times, it won’t make much difference if he dies of his injuries several seconds after he’s had a chance to crush your skull with a brick,” Miller wrote.

“Once the assailant presents a clear and credible threat, you want him down immediately, and while four bullets may not swiftly drop an aggressive juggernaut, 40 bullets might.”

Testimony from Miller, as well a computer animation played last week purporting to show the shooting from Van Dyke’s point of view, could combine to give the defense team a detailed account of the shooting — and was going on in Van Dyke’s mind as he pulled the trigger — without Van Dyke himself taking the stand. Legal experts generally consider it a risky move to put a defendant on the stand in a murder trial.

In pretrial motions, Special Prosecutor Joe McMahon had argued against allowing Miller, who had evaluated Van Dyke in 2016, to testify about Van Dyke’s mental state at the time of the shooting in 2014.

“The jury does not need Dr. Miller to tell them what thoughts were going through the defendant’s mind before and during the shooting,” McMahon wrote in a motion filed in March, seeking to bar Miller from taking the stand, “because only the defendant can know that information.”

Source: Chicago sun