Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez defended herself and Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday after critics slammed both of them for delays in filing charges against a Chicago police officer who fatally shot a teenager more than a year ago.
Alvarez, who faces a tough primary election in March, was criticized by her challengers, among others, for the timing of the charges against the officer and the release of the dash-cam video.
Alvarez said the FBI contacted the Cook County state's attorney's office in November 2014, a few weeks after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, and the two offices began working together on the case in December.
"From that time on, we were engaged in an active joint ongoing criminal investigation at both the state and the federal levels," Alvarez said in a press conference Tuesday. "The public needs to know that while it would seem to some that the 12 months of investigation with our federal partners has taken too long, investigations of police shootings and misconduct are highly complex matters that carry with them very unique legal issues that must be fully examined and taken into consideration."
Officer Jason Van Dyke, 37, was charged Tuesday morning with first-degree murder for the October 2014 shooting that left McDonald dead. The charges were announced ahead of the anticipated release of the dash-cam video showing the shooting.
It is reportedly the first time a Chicago officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an off-duty shooting in nearly 35 years.
The release of the dash-cam video, which Alvarez described as "graphic," "violent" and "chilling," was a point of contention throughout the investigation as activists called for its release while officials asked that it be kept from the public eye.
Last week, Mayor Emanuel pushed back against the Illinois attorney general's office after they asked police to release the footage. The mayor said it would be premature to release the video because of the ongoing FBI investigation.
Emanuel faced backlash from critics for his comment, but Alvarez defended him Tuesday, saying his plea to keep the video away from the public eye "was in the best interest of the investigation."
Alvarez's opponents in the upcoming March primary election for her state's attorney's seat were among those who criticized Alvarez for the delays in filing charges and releasing the video.
Kim Foxx, a former prosecutor, released a statement after Van Dyke was charged Tuesday, saying the delays in pressing charges were a "heinous disservice" to McDonald's family and the criminal justice system as a whole.
"By waiting so long to press charges in this case, State's Attorney Alvarez has done the McDonald family and the entire criminal justice system a heinous disservice," Foxx said. "She waited until her hand was forced by intense political and media pressure surrounding the release of this painful video. She waited even after City Hall was prepared to pay the McDonald family $5 million in damages."
Foxx also added that the delays created more tension between Chicago communities and the Chicago Police Department, making it more difficult for officers to do their jobs.
Donna More, another former prosecutor who is challenging Alvarez for her seat, also posted a statement to Facebook after Van Dyke was charged questioning why the charges didn't come earlier.
"Yesterday it was announced that the Cook County State's Attorney's Office would finally pursue charges against Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who maliciously cut short the life of Laquan McDonald in October 2014," More said. "While I take some solace in the fact that some action was finally taken, why has it taken Anita Alvarez and the State's Attorney's office 13 months to indict? The McDonald family deserved better and the residents of Cook County deserve more."
Alvarez said the reason it took so long is because investigations into police shootings and misconduct are "massive and labor intensive" and can take up to 20 months. She also added that they wanted to make sure they were following all the rules so the indictment would not be dismissed due to tainted evidence.
"At the end of the day, I'd rather take my time and get it right than rush to judgments and get it wrong," Alvarez said.