Why didn’t State’s Attorney Alvarez handle the shooting of Laquan McDonald by indicting officer Van Dyke in 60 days?

On December 21, 2014, if then six year incumbent Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had played it smartly, the local Chicago papers would have reported the following:

The easy to make case against Officer Jason Van Dyke:

The office of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez yesterday charged Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke with first degree murder in the shooting death of 17 year old Laquan McDonald on the evening of October 20, 2014.

Evidence available to the State’s Attorney includes five videos (dash-cams from McDonald’s and four other police cars) and a Burger King security video.

There is little or no audio on the videos, except for police car sirens.  It is not yet known whether the lack of audio reflects intentional efforts to obstruct justice or an innocent equipment malfunction.  The dash cams are designed to turn on automatically when a police car’s emergency lights and sirens come on.

The Burger King video has an 86 minute gap– starting prior to the 10 pm shooting and concluding after the shooting.  Police officers, purportedly investigating the shooting, obtained the Burger King video from a restaurant official shortly after the shooting—when it apparently had no gap, and returned the tape to the restaurant shortly thereafter with a gap present.

The dash cam tapes show that police officers could see McDonald running and walking away from them as they arrived on the scene. McDonald was holding a three inch knife, which he had used to damage automobiles on the street prior to and during the police officers’ arrival.

About 16 police officers arrived at a Chicago southwest side trucking yard, where McDonald, high on PCP, had been breaking into and damaging cars and he proceeded to slash the tires of one of the police cars attempting to block his path.

The first two officers to chase McDonald followed him for about a half mile, from the trucking yard, through a Burger King parking lot and then onto Pulaski Road.

Then, the various police officers tried to contain McDonald to keep him from passers-by—as the police awaited backup units armed with Tasers.

Van Dyke, with his partner, arrived 10 minutes after the first call to police. They drew their weapons as they left the police car.

Within six seconds of getting out of his car, Van Dyke opened fire.  By all indications, the other police at the scene all thought McDonald could be handled without force. 

After two seconds and three shots by Van Dyke, McDonald is on the ground, and Van Dyke proceeds to plug the teen with 13 more shots in 14 seconds. Van Dyke stops to reload, and his partner walks over to the teen’s body and kicks a 3 inch knife out of his hand.  The teen dies on his way to the hospital.  [For more details about the shooting of McDonald and about Van Dyke’s background, please visit here]

-What should Alvarez have done?

The above is all the investigation that was needed to indict Van Dyke

The above was knowable to Alvarez within 60 days or less of the event.

So, why didn’t Anita Alvarez take 60 days and do a thorough, aggressive and competent investigation, and then charge Van Dyke and move on?  [Eric Zorn asks this question more broadly as to the Mayor, the police chief and Alvarez(Why did Rahm take 13 months to release the videos and Alvarez take 13 months to indict), but Zorn doesn’t seem to get the divergent interests of the three; This reporter gets why Emanuel and McCarthy had an interest in a cover-up, rogue cops reflect negatively on them; But, Alvarez has no such interest], you can’t blame her for bad cops]

Alvarez has 900 Assistant State’s Attorneys if she needs them. She, herself, had 21 years of hands on experience in the State’s Attonreys’ office, prosecuted dozens of criminals in bench and jury trials, and she told this reporter in her 2008 State’s Attorney six candidate Democratic Primary that she was the only one in the race who could say, “I tried and convicted police officers.” [Watch video here at 15:12-15:17]

Alvarez had access to six videos of the shooting.  She had ten to fifteen policeman with direct, first-hand knowledge relating to the shooting.

At most, Alvarez had 10 to 15 “Event or fact witnesses,” with knowledge of what happened.  The coroner or whoever handled the autopsy of McDonald needed to be questioned carefully and perhaps an expert or two questioned on such shootings.

If Alvarez didn’t trust her colleagues to get this done right, she could have done it herself with a few aides in 60 days.

-Why Alvarez should have indicted in 60 days

First, Alvarez has an interest in making sure her office is perceived as doing the right thing.  If a cop is accused of excessive force when apprehending a suspect, take the complaint seriously and if there is strong evidence of a criminal violation beyond a reasonable doubt, indict.

Do the above, no matter the race of the cop and the complainant.

Second, given the Burge torture case and others involving abuse of accused minorities by white Chicago cops—if the cop happens to be white and is accused of improperly shooting and killing a black, that’s a case Alvarez should pay particular attention to.

Third, add to the mix that Hispanic Anita Alvarez know in December, 2014 that her Democratic Party primary contest opponents in 2016 likely included an African-American and a white female—and later today that fact will be confirmed.

-The puzzle   

So, it’s a bit of an intellectual puzzle.  Why did State’s Attorney Alvarez play ball with Mayor Daley and Police Superintendent McCarthy in the McDonald case? Why not do the right thing—when that approach would also help her politically?

Stay tuned, and we’ll deal with those questions as well as the obstruction of justice issues in following posts.



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  • Strange that "Mayor Daley" enters into this, but that probably demonstrates the motivation--i.e. don't p.o the establishment. Mayor Daley, as State's Attorney, did nothing about Burge--both by continuing the prosecutions of the accused and not investigating Burge.

    I was somewhat accepting of Emanuel saying he was waiting for Alvarez, and Alvarez saying she was waiting for the feds, but with this kind of evidence, you are right that she should have acted earlier.

    In that the first Baltimore police officer implicated in the Freddie Gray case is now coming up for trial, that sent me to a Baltimore Sun timeline stating that Gray died April 19, 2015, and even though the Justice Dept. opened an investigation, that State's Attorney said on April 30 that she was going to file charges, and they were charged on May 1. That case sounds much less cut and dried than this one.

    Also, if one wants to discuss the competence of the State's Attorney, take Dante Servin, who was acquitted of manslaughter because he should have been charged with murder.

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