CHICAGO — The public is justified in questioning why the Chicago City Council fast-tracked a settlement with the family of Laquan McDonald, the teen shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a radio interview Friday.
Alvarez, herself facing intense scrutiny following the release of dashcam footage showing McDonald's violent death, went on WGN-AM Friday morning to discuss the prosecution of McDonald's killer and the fallout from the video.
Alvarez defended her actions in the case which, following a one-year investigation, resulted in murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke. She also criticized city leaders for financially settling with the McDonald family so early in her office's investigation of the October 2014 shooting.
"That is certainly something that is not in my control at all, but it was quick," Alvarez said of the city's decision to award $5 million to the family in April of 2015. "I think people have a right to question why it was so quick."
The state's attorney's office opened its investigation into McDonald's death shortly after the shooting, Alvarez said. But the City Council approved the $5 million payment to the family six months after the shooting death of McDonald and six months before Alvarez would charge Van Dyke with murder.
Aldermen were urged to approve the settlement because lawyers for the city said the video footage would contradict the police officer's claims of self defense.
Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder on Nov. 24.
Alvarez was asked to explain why it took over a year to charge Van Dyke, especially when the crucial evidence seemed so damning.
"When I see the video I see a guy who murdered the kid in the street," said WGN radio host Steve Cochran. "When you see the video, how do you take a step back from that and say, 'I know what I saw but now I have to do what I have to do'?"
Alvarez said much more went into the investigation than just the video, and that a joint investigation with federal authorities slowed the process.
"When I first saw that video, my reaction was the same as everyone else who saw the video. I thought, dear God, this is shocking, this is explosive. ... However, the video isn't the entire case. We have to make sure what we build is sufficient to sustain our burden. We have a high burden. We want to make sure justice will be served. ... It's difficult in these cases to garner a conviction. The main thing you want to do is build the best case possible. I'd rather take the time to get it right than rush to judgement."
Alvarez said Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not try to interject into the investigation process.
"I did not talk to the mayor about this case at all," Alvarez said. "He did not call me and try to impede in this investigation. He didn't and I wouldn't talk to anyone about this case."
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