Posted: Aug 29 2018 09:14AM CDT
Video Posted: Aug 29 2018 08:32PM CDT
Updated: Aug 29 2018 10:42PM CDT
CHICAGO (FOX 32 NEWS) - Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke spoke with FOX 32 in his first TV interview since fatally shooting Laquan McDonald.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder after firing 16 shots into the 17-year-old on Oct. 20, 2014.
On Wednesday, he spoke with FOX 32's Dane Placko for nearly an hour on a range of topics including struggling with suicidal thoughts, potentially serving time in jail and fears for his family's safety.
There were some conditions set by Van Dyke’s attorney, such as we couldn't ask him specifically about the shooting itself.
Placko: "You have been depicted as a racist by the protesters and others. How do you respond to that?"
Van Dyke: "I would say that this is a false narrative by people who are trying to confuse fact with their own opinion. Anybody who knows me knows I'm not a racist.”
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke is speaking out after nearly four years of silence, with his trial on first-degree murder charges a week away and life in prison hanging in the balance.
Placko: “What is going through your mind now that we're just days away from the start of this trial?"
Van Dyke: "I'm extremely nervous. I'm petrified at the fact that I may be going to prison for the rest of my life for an act that I was trained to do by the Chicago Police Department.”
Placko: "There's a sense of dread."
Van Dyke: "Huge."
Van Dyke worked in some of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods for nearly 15 years. He says he saw a lot of good in those communities, and a lot of bad.
Van Dyke: "Despair. Homelessness...I mean you'd see neighborhoods where there's child neglect, children beaten...You'd see people die from gunshot wounds. You'd see people die in front of you."
Van Dyke says he had several encounters with people holding guns or knives, but used his training in de-escalation rather than force.
Van Dyke: "I never had to fire my gun at an individual, an offender. Never wanted to. Nobody wants to fire their gun."
But on October 20th, 2014, Van Dyke fired his gun 16 times, killing Laquan McDonald and sparking a firestorm of protest when the video was released a year later.
Van Dyke says he went home that night in a daze, collapsed in the shower, but couldn't tell his wife what happened.
Van Dyke: "She actually found out through a Facebook post."
Placko: "Why didn't you tell her?"
Van Dyke: "I didn't want her breaking down before work."
Placko: "You had just taken a person's life. How did you deal with that?"
Van Dyke: "That's what I mean. Taking a person's life is not something I take lightly at all...it’s… it’s… it's very conflicting with [my] religious beliefs. I never would have done this if I didn't think my life or somebody else's life was in danger."
Placko: "Is there anything you'd like to say to Laquan McDonald's family?"
Van Dyke: "I pray every day. I pray every day."
Placko: "It's on your mind?"
Van Dyke: "Yes, it's...it's never gonna leave my mind."
Van Dyke says he hears the protesters that gather at the criminal courthouse at every court hearing.
Placko: "Do you understand why the protesters are there?"
Van Dyke: "I understand, and they have a right to protest."
But Van Dyke believes some of the anger is misdirected. He says his family has received death threats, and his 12 and 16-year-old daughters have been targeted at school.
Van Dyke: "It's impacted them socially. It's impacted their friends. It's impacted their schoolwork, their life at school where they've been the target of this…My oldest one has had notes left on desks stating 16 shots. She's been ridiculed because of it."
Placko: "Do you think politics played any role in the decision to prosecute you?"
Van Dyke: "I strongly believe that politics was heavily involved with this since the beginning…I would like the jury to know the facts of the situation that happened... And I would like them to make a decision based on evidence and not on opinion."
Van Dyke also talked about his emotional stability since the shooting and thoughts of suicide.
Van Dyke: "It's hard to deal with knowing that I may be going to prison for doing an act I was trained to do by the Chicago Police Department."
Van Dyke has already had a taste of confinement when he served a few days at the Cook County Jail after he was arraigned on first-degree murder charges for the shooting of McDonald.
Placko: "What was it like in County jail?"
Van Dyke: "It was horrible. I was in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. When I went out I had to be the only individual out on the floor."
And he says even if he's acquitted, life will always be different.
Van Dyke: "My life will never be normal again. Just from a sense of employment, I'll never be a police officer again. I'll… I'll still have to live with this for the rest of my life."
Which Van Dyke says has already affected his emotional stability.
Van Dyke: "I’ve seen psychologists because of this... I'll never sleep normal again. I'm worried about my future, worried about my kids. Worried about their safety."
Placko: "This is a very tough personal question. You don't have to answer it if you want. But have you ever considered harming yourself or bringing an end to this?"
Van Dyke: "(long pause) Yeah I did."
Placko: "Tell me about that."
Van Dyke: "Since I learned that I was going to have to turn myself in in a couple of days, I was driving myself home after vacation… Had all kinds of thoughts going through my head. I thought about just driving at a high speed into an embankment."
Placko: "Just to end it all."
Van Dyke: "Uh huh."
Placko: "Why didn't you? What stopped you?"
Van Dyke: "Family. Faith."
Jury selection for the trial is slated to begin next week.
Charges came in November 2015 after a judge ordered the release of a dashcam video showing the deadly shooting. The footage sparked massive protests.
Van Dyke has since been suspended without pay or benefits.
Tune into FOX 32 at 9 p.m. to see Dane Placko's full report.