Civil Rights Attorneys Request Anita Alvarez Be Removed From Laquan McDonald Shooting Case, Seek Special Prosecutor

Laquan McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times while walking away from a Chicago police officer in October 2014.

Nearly four months after the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video, attorneys representing a coalition of community activists and relatives of McDonald have called for a special prosecutor to handle the criminal case.

McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times while walking away from a Chicago police officer in October 2014. Dashcam footage showing the shooting was released to the public in November 2015, sparking protests and outrage nationwide.

A petition filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court seeks to have Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez "disqualified from representing the people" in connection with the McDonald case. 

It was announced during a news conference Tuesday.

"We make this request because Anita Alvarez cannot discharge her duties to the people because she is so aligned with the Fraternal Order of Police," said Sheila Bedi, a law professor at Northwestern University Law School and an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center. "The Cook County justice system regularly, every day, as we speak churns black and brown men through the system, many for minor non-violent offenses. Yet this very system ground to a halt when it came to holding accountable the police officers who were responsible for the death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald."

The group of attorneys — featuring Locke Bowman, the director for the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Bedi, and G. Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the People’s Law Office —claimed Alvarez should not be allowed to prosecute Officer Jason Van Dyke or any other Chicago police officers who "participated in the falsification of reports, the destruction of evidence, the manipulation and coercion of witnesses and other possible misconduct in the aftermath of the fatal shooting."

The attorneys were joined at Tuesday's press conference by political leaders including Congressman Danny Davis, former mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, and a representative for Congressman Bobby Rush, among others. 

Van Dyke, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with McDonald's death and has pleaded not guilty. 

"State’s Attorney Alvarez has lost the confidence of the public," Garcia said. "She lost the confidence of the public when she delayed the charging of Officer Jason Van Dyke for 400 days. It is clear that any oversight of this case has been mishandled."

Some of those calling for a special prosecutor include supporters of former Cook County Assistant Sate's Attorney Kim Foxx, one of Alvarez's opponents in the upcoming March primary. Bowman denied Tuesday that politics played a role in the filing of the petition, however.

Alvarez has previously defended her actions and said she does not "believe any mistakes were made" during the handling of the case. 

"The State's Attorney's Office has spent over a year working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, using the full resources of the most professional and respected investigative agency in the nation to build a meticulous case against Jason Van Dyke," Alvarez said in a statement Tuesday. "Moreover, that case has already resulted in an indictment, and has been assigned to ASA Risa Lanier and ASA Lynn McCarthy, two highly skilled prosecutors with vast experience prosecuting violent offenders and complex cases."

Bowman, Taylor and the MacArthur Justice Center made headlines in 2011 when they called for a special prosecutor to determine if police covered up evidence in the case of 21-year-old David Koschman, who was killed in a fight in 2004.

Their request was later approved by a Cook County judge and the prosecutor’s report was unsealed in February 2014.

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