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State's Attorney Alvarez defies calls to quit, urges U.S. probe of Chicago P.D

Thursday, December 03, 2015
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick and John Byrneē

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez on Thursday joined the growing chorus of calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a broad-based investigation into the practices of the Chicago Police Department in the wake of controversy surrounding the videotaped fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Alvarez addressed the issue hours after Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who initially opposed such an investigation, backtracked and said he would support any federal efforts to prevent further incidents like that which led to McDonald's death and the filing of first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke ó 13 months after the October 2014 shooting. Critics have accused Emanuel and Alvarez of trying to cover up the incident, accusations both have denied.

"I know (Illinois) Attorney General (Lisa) Madigan made that request, and I join her in that," Alvarez said, referring to a broad Justice Department probe. Alvarez said such an investigation might answer questions why audio is missing from the police car dash-cam video of the incident ó which shows McDonald being shot 16 times, with most of the bullets fired into his body after he's already down in the street ó and why none of the eight officers on the scene were equipped with Tasers.

Alvarez's comments came right after Cook County Commissioners Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and John Fritchey called for a County Board hearing on why it took 13 months to bring charges against Van Dyke. Alvarez said she would not participate in that kind of "political grandstanding and circus."

Fritchey backs attorney Donna More in the March 15 Democratic primary for state's attorney over Alvarez, who is seeking a third term. Garcia is a close ally of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who backs Kim Foxx, her former chief of staff. On Thursday, the politically active Service Employees International Union Illinois Council, representing 150,000 workers, endorsed Foxx. One SEIU official said Alvarez "has become a national symbol of the failed policies of our criminal justice system."

Both Garcia and Fritchey have called for Alvarez's resignation.

"We are here to add to the interests in cries for justice surrounding not just the execution of Laquan McDonald, but the handling of countless matters that continue to come to light almost daily that are jeopardizing and further eroding confidence in our criminal justice system," Fritchey said. "The criminal justice system is dependent not only on the execution of justice, but on having the public trust and confidence necessary to make sure that we are achieving aren't cover-ups, aren't convictions, but justice."

Garcia said the release of the video last week "requires reflection and explanation, especially from key stakeholders of our criminal justice system. While I have expressed my opinions, I continue to believe that the County Board would be a fair body to listen to what everyone has to say, including the state's attorney.

"So I am willing to give her a forum that would have a proper decorum for her to express her perspective and the actions that she took or decided not to take between the time of the McDonald shooting to when she finally brought about those charges."

Alvarez announced the charge against Van Dyke hours before the release of the video, which a judge ordered be made public in keeping with state open records laws.

After Fritchey and Garcia held their news conference on the 5th floor of the County Building, Alvarez showed up to respond.

"They can stand up here and they can criticize me all they want," Alvarez said. "But I have an election coming up, and the people of Cook County will speak. Because you know what? I would rather lose an election than compromise the integrity of an investigation.

"I have done this job for 29 years, speaking up on behalf of the victims of Cook County, the majority of those victims being minority. And to be portrayed in this light by seasoned politicians with political agendas is disgusting and it's degrading. I'm going to continue to be the Cook County state's attorney, and there's no way that I would ever even consider resigning."

Alvarez also tried to portray those calling for her resignation as politicians with other reasons to topple her who are insensitive to the seriousness of the McDonald case. She has defended the delay, citing the complexity of bring murder charges against a police officer.

"The people who are calling for my resignation aren't the people of Cook County," Alvarez said. "The people who are calling for my resignation are politicians, seasoned politicians, all with political agendas, and all with some of kind of connection to the person who's running an opponent against me. They all have their political agendas, and I'm not going to stand up here and allow the death of Laquan McDonald, of this tragic death of a 17-year-old boy, be put into this political light, because that's what they're turning this into."

But it isn't just politicians calling for the resignation of Alvarez. About an hour before Alvarez had her new conference, several dozen protesters held a news conference outside the Loop building where she has her offices, calling for the state's attorney to step down immediately. They delivered to Alvarez's staff several boxes which they said contained signed petitions demanding she resign.

"This is not about politics," said the Rev. Michael Russell, president of Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation. "It is to proclaim a need for the restoration of justice in Cook County. For the last 18 months, S.O.U.L. and our allies have been demanding that the Cook County state's attorney, Anita Alvarez, stand with the people to end the mass incarceration of our black and brown citizens in Cook County."

"We believe her failure to enact swift justice on behalf of Laquan McDonald is yet another example, the tip of the iceberg, in how she has failed in her role, and she should now step down," Russell said at the protest.

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