It took a full year for the Chicago officer who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times to be charged with first degree murder, despite damning dash camera footage that contradicted police testimony about the killing. That charge came on the day the video was released, following a judge’s ruling that city officials could no longer withhold it from the public. Since that day, more details have been revealed about the Chicago Police Department’s efforts to cover up shooting officer Jason Van Dyke’s misconduct.
Nevertheless, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez doesn’t see anything wrong with how the case was handled.
“I don’t believe any mistakes were made,” she said during a debate with the two other women, Donna More and Kim Foxx, who are vying for her office. “When I saw the case, I enlisted the FBI and United States attorney because I knew that this is a case we wanted to make sure we got it right.”
As Election Day — March 15 — approaches, Alvarez has been scrambling to defend her title as Chicago’s top prosecutor. After the video of McDonald’s shooting was released in November, the city’s residents have demanded police accountability and the removal of top officials — including Alvarez. When the case inevitably came up during the debate, her opponents slammed her for taking so long to charge Van Dyke, even after determining there was probable cause.
But deciding to wait a year to bring charges wasn’t the only misstep between the time McDonald was shot and Van Dyke’s indictment.
Police blatantly lied about what occurred before the shooting, saying McDonald “lunged” at them. But none of those officers were held accountable for distorting the truth. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s staff knew about the video in 2014 and coordinated with the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) — which is responsible for investigating officer misconduct — about how to deal with potential backlash if the video was publicized. And city attorneys tried to bury the video during Emanuel’s reelection campaign, offering money to the McDonald family to keep the video confidential.
On Thursday night, Alvarez pushed back against her opponents. “Neither of my opponents have had the experience of doing in-depth investigations in police cases. I have,” she said. “It’s just showing inexperience and incompetence to say that you can take one look at that videotape, and in 24 hours make a decision on that case, on a case that’s going to stick. So I stand by my investigation.”
“Our criminal justice system is profoundly broken … the current state’s attorney doesn’t even realize that it’s broken,” Foxx shot back.
Alvarez has a long history of covering up officer misconduct and shielding officers from legal action. She’s declined to charge officers who shoot and killed unarmed Chicagoans, and deliberately undercharged them. When it comes to civilians, Alvarez is considered one of the most overzealous prosecutors in the country. According to a report from Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, she has repeatedly ignored key evidence pointing to defendants’ innocence. She also fought retrials for juveniles sentenced to life without parole, after the Supreme Court ruled the harsh sentencing unconstitutional.