“I don’t believe any mistakes were made,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said regarding the investigation of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald’s police-related shooting death in Chicago.
Alvarez has been in office since 2008. She made the comment last week during a debate with Donna More and Kim Foxx. More and Foxx are both running for state’s attorney in the March election.
McDonald, who is Black, was shot 16 times and killed on Oct. 20, 2014, by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white. The city withheld video footage of the shooting for over a year until a judge ordered it be released in November. Van Dyke was not charged with murder until 400 days after McDonald’s murder and after the judge compelled the city to make the video public.
Controversy has surrounded the case since the video became public. Police officers initially alleged that McDonald lunged at them. But the footage shows McDonald did not advance towards officers and that he was walking away from the officers. Van Dyke shot McDonald and continued firing shots at him even after he was already on the ground motionless. An officer then kicked a three-inch knife out of McDonald’s hand.
Van Dyke was initially on paid administrative leave but was no longer being paid after his arrest.
Protests took place after the release of the video. Outraged citizens called for both Alvarez and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign, alleging a cover-up of the crime by the city. 60 percent of Chicago voters believe the police deliberately kept the video from the public. Many people believe charges never would have been filed had the video not been released, with 60 percent of Chicago voters believe the police deliberately kept the video from the public, according to a poll.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, who protested in Chicago, said the situation brings attention to a larger problem. “We need bold comprehensive change in the police department and the criminal justice system,” he said at the time.
Citizens of Cook County also do not feel the same way Alvarez does about her approach. A Chicago Tribune poll conducted in December found that 71 percent of Cook County residents did not trust the way Alvarez handled the McDonald case. 24 percent of residents strongly disapprove of the job Alvarez is doing overall, while only 19 percent strongly approve.
Alvarez defended her actions and described the investigation as “meticulous” and “thorough.”
“Neither of my opponents have had the experience of doing in-depth investigations in police cases. I have,” Alvarez 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.”
Alvarez noted in an interview with the Daily Herald that police-related shootings are more complicated than other shootings. “It’s not the same as one civilian shooting another,” she said. “Police officers have the right to use force. Particularly now, with the climate, maybe people don’t understand.”
But Rev. Jackson said during protests that the city likely had other motives for how it handled the case.
“In Chicago, officials offered no remedy,” he said. “Instead they sat on the tape for more than a year, buried the killing in an unending investigation, gave the officer a pass, and got through the elections.”
Alvarez’s explanation about the complexity of police shootings also came despite data that she herself cited in the very same Daily Herald interview showing that 400 days is still a lengthier than average investigation: “Last year there was an article in the Washington Post talking about police shootings and they analyzed 10 years of police shootings, over 1,000 cases. The average length of investigation on those cases was 261 days.”
More and Foxx also expressed their disdain for Alvarez’s handling of the case, with More implying that the state’s attorney must be holding police officers who commit crimes accountable.
“Police officers have to know that if we have a bad apple they’re going to be indicted,” she said.
Foxx, meanwhile, described Alvarez’s failure to file charges against Van Dyke more quickly “only the latest failure to protect victims and executive justice in a timely and efficient manner.”
“Our criminal justice system is profoundly broken the current state’s attorney doesn’t even realize that it’s broken,” she said.