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Police Pack Humboldt Park, Other Areas As City Prepares For Jason Van Dyke Verdict

Jurors on Thursday began deliberating the fate of the first Chicago police officer charged with murder in decades. They will resume on Friday after being sequestered.

Police officers seemed to fill every pocket of Humboldt Park's namesake park Thursday.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
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HUMBOLDT PARK — The Chicago Police Department is preparing for unrest as a verdict possibly draws near in the murder trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke, stationing officers all over the city, including hundreds in Humboldt Park’s namesake park.

Jurors, who deliberated for about five hours Thursday after closing arguments were delivered, are set to resume at 9 a.m. Friday. Judge Vincent Gaughan sequestered them overnight, keeping them at an undisclosed hotel.

Two alternate jurors who were dismissed Thursday evening after closing arguments told reporters at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th at California they were leaning towards convicting Van Dyke of murder in the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald.

As jurors deliberated on Friday, throughout the city, police officers assembled.

Humboldt Park was crawling with officers Thursday as helicopters circled overhead. Other large collections of officers were spotted around the city.

Many were stationed in the Humboldt Park parking lot adjacent to the building that houses Boathouse Cafe. But officers seemed to fill every pocket of the park, some standing in groups by the field house and others walking down Humboldt Boulevard.

The department is using Humboldt Park as one of “many” staging areas throughout the city, according to Chicago police spokeswoman Danette Wetterer. As is the case for large citywide events, the city is preparing for rallies, riots and everything in between. The city has not seen actual riots since 1968, but did see large-scale protests following the release of the Laquan McDonald video. 

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Many of the officers were stationed in the parking lot adjacent to the Boathouse Cafe building.

It’s unclear how many officers the department deployed for the security plan, how long the deployment will last and the total number of staging areas.

Wetterer declined to answer further questions, saying, “We do not detail our security plan as we hope you can understand.”

A Chicago Park District employee, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was the most police officers she’d ever seen in the park — a lot more than the department deploys every year for the Puerto Rican Parade.

“We weren’t really expecting it but it is for the community, to keep us safe,” the employee said, adding, “It was an inconvenience for our program because our staff had trouble getting in the building.”

The employee touched on another big component of the department’s plan: Parking restrictions. Parking is prohibited in and around Humboldt Park during the staging, according to pink signs affixed to trees all over the park. Officers also blocked off all the service drives.

Credit: Antonio Perez/Pool/Chicago Tribune
Police officer Jason Van Dyke appears at the Leighton Criminal Court Building on June 2, 2017.

Van Dyke, 40, faces charges of first-degree murder, official misconduct and aggravated battery —  16 counts of the latter, one for each shot he fired into 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Jurors were also allowed to consider second-degree murder charges. One of the dismissed alternate jurors said she was open to considering that, but had wanted to hear the other jurors’ arguments.

McDonald, who was armed with a 3-inch blade, was stealing truck radios when Chicago police officers in Archer Heights called in a request for a Taser on Oct. 20, 2014, prosecutors said.

Van Dyke and his partner responded to the call. Within seconds of arriving on the scene as McDonald walked in the middle of the street at 40th and Pulaski, Van Dyke pulled his gun and emptied his clip into McDonald.

Prosecutors told jurors police dashcam video clearly shows McDonald walking away from officers. Van Dyke testified McDonald made a move toward him after repeatedly being told to drop the knife.

Prosecutors also told the jury there were 10 officers on the scene, and no one other than Van Dyke fired shots.

Video of the shooting, which was released via court order in November 2015, sparked citywide protests that shut down the Mag Mile.

The day the video was released, Van Dyke was charged with first degree murder.

The video was watched across the country and sparked protests in the city for weeks. Activists have said it helped them oust top political figures, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said he will not seek a third term, ex-Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who was fired by Emanuel, and Anita Alvarez, the former Cook County state’s attorney who lost in the first primary to follow the release of the dashcam video.

Credit: Provided
A vigil will be held for Laquan McDonald (left) outside the courthouse where Officer Jason Van Dyke (right) has been on trial for murder in the teen’s death.

To prepare for the verdict, Chicago Police are prepared to cancel days off, and the department began extending officers’ normal workday from 8.5 to 12 hours on Thursday, according to reports.

Meanwhile, building owners along the Magnificent Mile, which saw numerous protests in the wake of the release of the Laquan McDonald dashcam video, have prepped for protests.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago issued an alert Sept. 21 warning that there may only be a two-hour window between a verdict and the public announcement of it.

“The length of jury deliberations following closing arguments would remain uncertain,” according to an association alert for the city’s Central Business District. “The decision could take hours or weeks. When the jury reaches a verdict, the public will likely have only a 2-hour notice before the verdict is announced in court.

“It is reasonable to expect that the verdict may prompt additional protest activity.

“It is important that buildings have a preparedness and response plan in place prior to the announcement of the jury’s verdict.”

At 33 W. Monroe, building management sent out a security alert to tenants, saying it planned to seal off all entrances to the building, including docks. “It may be recommended during this time for tenants to remain in the building and shelter in place until an all clear is provided by” the city, the alert told tenants.

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
Swarms of officers filled the park Thursday.