- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A coalition of Chicago community leaders and civil rights attorneys are calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the investigation into the fatal police shooting of a black teenager — saying they have no confidence in the Cook County state’s attorney.

The group on Tuesday submitted a petition asking a judge to consider appointing a special prosecutor to handle the criminal case against Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is charged in the 2014 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

“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, an attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center and law professor at Northwestern University.

The petition, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, also lists seven instances in which Ms. Alvarez declined to bring any charges in fatal officer-involved shootings despite “questionable circumstances.”

“The State’s Attorney’s track record has undermined her credibility, created a crisis of confidence in her and her office, and created the appearance that this State’s Attorney cannot be trusted to zealously and effectively prosecute Officer Van Dyke,” the petition states.

Several who spoke at Tuesday’s announcement said their doubt was based in part on how long it took for Ms. Alvarez to bring first-degree murder charges against Officer Van Dyke in the case. The charges were not filed in the case until 13 months after McDonald’s death, and came on the same day that police were forced to release dashboard-camera video that captured the shooting.

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Cook County Commissioner and former Chicago mayoral candidate Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia said a special prosecutor is needed to handle the case because Ms. Alvarez “has lost the confidence of the public.”

“It is clear that any oversight of this case has been mishandled,” Mr. Garcia said, specifically mentioning rumored accusations that include possible tampering with audio and video of the incident. “It is clear that there is much that needs to be investigated.”

The video of the shooting was released in November and contradicted information police initially released about the incident.

It shows McDonald walking down the middle of a road when police cars pull up around him and two officers emerge. He appears to be walking away from the officers when Officer Van Dyke opens fire and continues shooting for about 14 seconds — even after McDonald had fallen to the ground.

Officer Van Dyke was the only one to fire his weapon, but activists have questioned why no charges have been brought against the officers who filed written reports that describe a different scenario in which McDonald lunges toward Officer Van Dyke.

Ms. Alvarez has denied being too closely aligned with law enforcement to be able to handle the case and questioned the political motivations of those who are seeking to have her removed from the case.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Ms. Alvarez said her office has brought charges against 96 police officers since she took office in 2008 and it was “more than a little coincidental” that the petition was filed less than 30 days before the March 15 primary election for state’s attorney.

Ms. Alvarez said she plans to go forward with the case.

“It is clear that there is no legal conflict in this case, and prosecution will proceed to hold Jason Van Dyke accountable for the murder of Laquan McDonald,” the statement read.

The coalition behind the petition to seek a special prosecutor expects Cook County Circuit Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. to consider the request at a Feb. 26 hearing.

In the wake of national protests, touched off by several high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, there has been more discussion nationally about the role special prosecutors can play in police misconduct cases. But actual appointment of one remains “a pretty rare thing,” according to David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

In July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law an executive order that puts Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in charge of prosecuting police-involved killings of unarmed civilians.

Activists pushed for use of special prosecutors in New York after a grand jury declined to indict a New York City police officer, who use of a chokehold on Eric Garner killed the 43-year-old man.

Mr. Harris said public trust for Chicago law enforcement and elected officials has been so badly damaged in the course of the investigation into McDonald’s death that a special prosecutor might be needed.

“The water around the police department, and mistrust of city government, has become so poisoned in this case that there is a belief that the existing powers that be will not call this fairly,” he said.

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