Anita Alvarez Wants To Be Taken Off Laquan McDonald Murder Case

CHICAGO (CBS) — In a sur­prise rever­sal Thursday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez asked to recuse her­self and her office from the mur­der case against the Chicago police offi­cer who fatal­ly shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014.

Alvarez also asked for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor in the mur­der case against Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. She had pre­vi­ous­ly defend­ed her han­dling of the McDonald case, and crit­i­cized calls for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor. She defend­ed the amount of time it took to file charges, say­ing she was work­ing along­side the FBI and fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors to thor­ough­ly inves­ti­gate the shoot­ing and build a “metic­u­lous case” against Van Dyke.

In a state­ment after Thursday’s hear­ing in the case, Alvarez said she decid­ed remove her­self and her office from the case to avoid any unnec­es­sary delays in the case, and to ensure one spe­cif­ic pros­e­cu­tor han­dles the case all the way to tri­al. Alvarez lost her bid for re-elec­tion in the Democratic pri­ma­ry in March. Her even­tu­al suc­ces­sor won’t be elect­ed until November, and won’t be sworn in until December.

My pri­ma­ry goal in bring­ing a charge of First Degree Murder in this case is and always has been about seek­ing jus­tice for Laquan McDonald. Today I believe that I am ful­fill­ing this oblig­a­tion by request­ing that the court turn this case over to a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor,” she said. “I believe that the results of the recent elec­tion and the impend­ing tran­si­tion of this office make this the best and most respon­si­ble decision.”

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said he would not rule on requests for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor until June 2.

Two peti­tions have been filed seek­ing to replace Alvarez in the case, cit­ing her close ties to the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that rep­re­sents Chicago police offi­cers. One peti­tion was filed by a group of civ­il rights attor­neys and activists, the oth­er was filed by Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Critics have said Alvarez is behold­en to the police union, and has failed to ade­quate­ly pros­e­cute cas­es of police mis­con­duct and corruption.

Alvarez stressed she does not believe there is any con­flict of inter­est that would pre­vent her office from han­dling the case.

Locke Bowman, one of the attor­neys seek­ing a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, said they were sur­prised and “very grat­i­fied” to learn Alvarez is seek­ing to with­draw from the case.

Defense attor­ney Dan Herbert said he’s pre­pared to take the case to tri­al, no mat­ter who the pros­e­cu­tors might be.

While it doesn’t change any of our strat­e­gy going for­ward, it cer­tain­ly will impact the case in cer­tain regards. We’re going to bring in a new pros­e­cut­ing crew, who pre­sum­ably does not have any knowl­edge about the case, who’s going to have to get up to speed. There’s a lot of doc­u­ments in this case. There’s a lot of witnesses.”

Meantime, Gaughan announced a spe­cial secu­ri­ty plan would be in place for future hear­ings in the case against Van Dyke, after his attor­neys asked to have him excused from rou­tine sta­tus hear­ings due to death threats, racial slurs, and harass­ment as he’s entered and exit­ed the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in the past.

Van Dyke is free on $1.5 mil­lion bail as he awaits tri­al for first-degree mur­der in McDonald’s death. He has been sus­pend­ed with­out pay.

Gaughan did not pro­vide any details on the secu­ri­ty plan, and held off rul­ing on Van Dyke’s request to be excused from rou­tine sta­tus hear­ings, but thanked Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart for work­ing out extra secu­ri­ty mea­sures when Van Dyke will be in court.

The judge said he worked out the secu­ri­ty plan with pros­e­cu­tors, defense attor­neys, and the sheriff’s office last week.

It’s just uncon­scionable to think that we could com­pel an indi­vid­ual to appear at a court date with­out pro­vid­ing for that person’s secu­ri­ty,” Gaughan said. “Mob rule will not hap­pen in this courtroom.”

Van Dyke is charged with first-degree mur­der in McDonald’s death, and his attor­neys had asked Gaughan to allow the offi­cer to skip sta­tus hear­ings in the case, cit­ing death threats, racial slurs, and large crowds of pro­test­ers when he has attend­ed past hearings.

The officer’s attor­neys have said Van Dyke’s life has been threat­ened, his father has been “phys­i­cal­ly bat­tered,” and a fam­i­ly vehi­cle has been “smashed” at pre­vi­ous court appear­ances, and the offi­cer should be excused from attend­ing sta­tus hear­ings in the case to pro­tect his safety.

There are rea­son­able grounds to believe that Defendant’s per­son­al safe­ty has been jeop­ar­dized by his atten­dance at pre­vi­ous court appear­ances and there is rea­son­able appre­hen­sion that the Defendant will con­tin­ue to encounter the same lev­el of expo­sure to per­son­al harm in the future,” Van Dyke’s attor­neys wrote in their motion seek­ing to allow Van Dyke to skip some court dates.

Cook County pros­e­cu­tors opposed Van Dyke’s request to be excused from attend­ing sta­tus hear­ings, not­ing cour­t­house protests have died down. They said allow­ing Van Dyke to miss court when oth­er defen­dants charged with vio­lent crimes must show up for every hear­ing would cre­ate a “slip­pery slope,” and cre­ate the appear­ance of spe­cial treatment.

Prosecutors have argued Van Dyke has not demon­strat­ed any cred­i­ble threat to his safe­ty, not­ing he has not alleged that he has been per­son­al­ly attacked, or that any­one yelling threats has been armed.

While ver­bal threats and taunts may cre­ate an uncom­fort­able pas­sage to and from the cour­t­house, mere words do not jeop­ar­dize defendant’s per­son­al safe­ty, and there­fore do not neces­si­tate defendant’s absence from court appear­ances,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote.

Herbert said Cook County pros­e­cu­tors first sug­gest­ed pos­si­ble pro­tec­tion by Cook County Sheriff’s deputies in their oppo­si­tion to Van Dyke’s request to be excused from attend­ing sta­tus hear­ings, which typ­i­cal­ly deal with rou­tine pro­ce­dur­al matters.

For most of his court appear­ances, Van Dyke has need­ed to run a gant­let of angry pro­test­ers when he has appeared at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. However, at his two most recent court appear­ances, no pro­test­ers showed up as Van Dye attend­ed court.

The release of police dash­cam video show­ing Van Dyke shoot­ing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014 prompt­ed a series of angry protests across the city, and led to a U.S. Justice Department inves­ti­ga­tion of the Chicago Police Department’s poli­cies and prac­tices regard­ing the use of force.