U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Chicago Sun-Times subpoenaed in Laquan McDonald murder case

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 29, 2018
Chicago, Illinois

Subpoena/Legal Order

Legal Orders
Legal Order Target
Legal Order Venue
REUTERS/Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke during a December 2017 hearing in the case against him for murdering teenager Laquan McDonald. His attorneys later subpoenaed the Chicago Sun-Times, ordering it to produce copies of all stories about the killing.

— REUTERS/Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool
April 22, 2024 - Update

Attorneys in Chicago murder case drop Sun-Times subpoena

The Chicago Sun-Times was not forced to produce copies of all stories about Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke’s 2014 murder of Black teenager Laquan McDonald, after attorneys representing Van Dyke dropped their subpoena of the paper, a Sun-Times attorney told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in April 2024.

Van Dyke’s attorneys subpoenaed the Sun-Times and two other Chicago-area papers in January 2018, ordering them to produce copies of all stories about Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of McDonald as part of an argument that heavy coverage of the case in the Chicago area necessitated a change of venue.

Sun-Times attorney Damon Dunn told the Tracker via email that, per his recollection, he had notified Van Dyke’s team in a letter that the paper would not waive Illinois’ reporter’s privilege to comply with the subpoena. Dunn explained that the Illinois statute puts the burden on the subpoena’s issuer to act “so subpoenas often are dropped after such an objection, which likely was the case here.”

January 29, 2018

Attorneys representing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke subpoenaed the Chicago Sun-Times and two other Chicago-area papers on Jan. 29, 2018, ordering the papers to produce copies of all stories about Van Dyke’s fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014.

Van Dyke has been charged with murder in connection with the fatal 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager. His trial is scheduled to begin later this year.

On Feb. 1, the Sun-Times reported that Van Dyke’s attorney had subpoenaed the Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Daily Herald.

Sun-Times editor-in-chief Chris Fusco declined to comment when asked about the subpoena. However, the Tribune confirmed that it was served a subpoena on Feb. 5 and the Daily Herald confirmed that it was served a subpoena on Feb. 7.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation obtained a copy of the subpoena served on the Tribune. The subpoena, dated Jan. 29, orders the paper to bring “any and all articles and/or publications in the electronic archive containing the name ‘Laquan McDonald’ and/or ‘Jason Van Dyke’” to a pre-trial hearing before judge Vincent Gaughan on Feb. 1 at 9 a.m.

The articles that Van Dyke’s attorneys are interested in are already publicly available, and it is unclear why they subpoenaed the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the Daily Herald for the articles instead of just searching through the newspapers' archives themselves.

Van Dyke’s legal team apparently plans to argue that extensive coverage of the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago-area newspapers has rendered a fair trial for Van Dyke impossible. Van Dyke’s attorneys plan to petition the court to move the trial out of Cook County, Illinois.

Anne Kavanagh, the media spokesperson for Van Dyke’s attorney Daniel Herbert, said that Van Dyke’s defense team subpoenaed the papers to support its motion for a change of venue. Kavanagh declined to comment further, citing a gag order issued by judge Gaughan.

This are not the first media subpoena in the Van Dyke case. In 2017, Van Dyke’s attorneys tried to subpoena Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist who reported extensively on the Laquan McDonald murder and the Chicago police department's alleged attempts to cover it up. Judge Gaughan quashed that subpoena.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].