CHICAGO (AP) — Cook County’s embattled state’s attorney asked a judge Thursday to appoint a special prosecutor to take over the case against a white Chicago police officer who shot a black teenager 16 times.
Anita Alvarez has faced months of criticism over her handling of the case and why it took more than a year to bring charges despite there being police dashcam video of the October 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Alvarez, who is set to leave office in December, wrote in a petition to recuse her office from the case that putting another prosecutor in charge would “ensure continuity” in its handling. Though critics have said her close relationship with the police officers’ union has created a conflict of interest for her, Alvarez denied that, writing that it had always been her “primary goal” to obtain justice for McDonald.
If Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan approves, it would clear the way for the appointment of an outside prosecutor, which activists and civil rights attorneys have demanded. Gaughan said he would announce his decision on June 2.
Officer Jason Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder in McDonald’s death. The release in November of video contradicted police accounts of the shooting and set off protests calling for an overhaul of the police force.
Civil rights attorneys and activists have criticized Alvarez for waiting more than a year to charge Van Dyke despite having police dash-cam video for months and petitioned the court to remove her from the case.
Alvarez abruptly announced charges in November just hours before the court-ordered release of the video, which the city had fought.
That timing, and the city’s earlier refusals to release the video, fed accusations of a cover-up. Critics contend that the delay in charging Van Dyke was just the latest example of what they say has been Alvarez’s reluctance to prosecute police officers in misconduct and shooting cases.
Alvarez has defended the way her office has proceeded with what she has called a very complicated case and has disputed the suggestion made by critics that she is too closely aligned with the police officers’ union to aggressively prosecute law enforcement.
Though she lost the March election, civil rights attorneys and activists argued the case should still go to a special prosecutor because Alvarez does not leave office until December.
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