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Alvarez Can't Be Trusted To Prosecute Police She's 'Beholden' To: Coalition

By Kelly Bauer | February 16, 2016 11:23am
 Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, left, and assistant state's attorney Lynn McCarthy at a press conference Monday discussing the video of the shooting of Ronald Johnson.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, left, and assistant state's attorney Lynn McCarthy at a press conference Monday discussing the video of the shooting of Ronald Johnson.
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Getty Images/Scott Olson

CHICAGO — Activists and local leaders are pushing for a special prosecutor to be used in the trial for an officer who fatally shot Laquan McDonald.

A coalition filed a petition asking the Cook County Circuit Court to appoint a special prosecutor, arguing Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has a "political alliance with the police union" that creates a conflict of interest in the case, according to the group. The coalition also wants a special prosecutor used in other potential police misconduct cases related to McDonald's death.

"Anita Alvarez is beholden to the police union," said Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center. "Her failure, over and over again, in many other cases, to appropriately and timely charge police officers ... makes it clear that she has helped to facilitate the code of silence that so pervades the Chicago Police Department."

Scroll Down To Read the Coalition's Petition

McDonald was 17 when he was shot and killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, but the city fought to keep dashcam footage of the shooting under wraps for more than a year. The release of the video in November led to protests throughout the city.

Van Dyke was charged with murder in McDonald's death — but not until more than 400 days had passed, the coalition said, citing the gap as evidence of Alvarez's bias.

"This timing has produced an unprecedented crisis of confidence in the state's attorney and her office," the coalition wrote in the petition. "Many in the public believe that the state's attorney ... would have declined to file charges against Mr. Van Dyke if authorities had not been forced by court order to release the video; and that she only reversed course to avoid the certainty of public outrage after the video became available."

If not for the release of the video, Van Dyke would not have been charged, the coalition wrote in the petition. It's also important other officers be prosecuted if they engaged in obstruction or misconduct related to the cases, but Alvarez "cannot be relied upon to zealously pursue such prosecutions," the coalition wrote.

"Her alliance is with the FOP and its members. Her commitment is wavering and uncertain when it comes to the need to prosecute police officers ... ," said Locke Bowman of the MacArthur Justice Center at a Tuesday news conference. "She is beholden to the police ... and it has destroyed her effectiveness, her zealousness, in pursuing prosecutions of the police."

READ: Laquan McDonald Video Shows Police Shooting Him 16 Times

Members of the coalition pointed to the trial of Dante Servin, an officer who shot and killed unarmed woman Rekia Boyd, as an example of Alvarez's ineffectiveness, saying she didn't have Servin charged correctly. Servin was found not guilty of manslaughter in a controversial case, with the judge saying the prosecution's evidence didn't support a charge of manslaughter but something more serious.

The coalition's petition also says there is evidence police officers tampered with evidence and intimidated witnesses in the McDonald case, but no other officers have been charged.

"This state's attorney virtually never charges officers of the Chicago Police Department with perjury, obstruction of justice or official misconduct when they lie on the witness stand, prepare provably false reports, fabricate evidence, destroy or conceal evidence, or coerce witnesses — despite the unfortunate regularity with which such misconduct occurs," the coalition wrote in the petition. "There is, in other words, no reason to believe that our state's attorney will act on the evidence of cover-up in relation to the McDonald shooting."

The push for a special prosecutor has the backing of the City Council's Black Caucus, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis and former mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia. They said they have "no faith" Alvarez will fairly prosecute Van Dyke and other officers.

The group, members of whom have publicly voiced support for Alvarez's opponents in an upcoming election, said they were not pushing for a prosecutor to influence the election. They were waiting for Alvarez to "acknowledge" a conflict of interest, Bowman said, and decided to speak out when they saw she would not do so.

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