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Cook County Public Defender: ‘The system is more than broken. It’s chaos.’

Wednesday, December 16, 2015
WGN Channel 9
by Julie Unruh,

To watch this entire piece click here


CHICAGO – For weeks, Chicago’s race relations and accusations of police abuse have been national news. They are deep rooted issues that need fixing.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli has a unique perspective at the the cases at the heart of the fallout.

Campanelli is a career public defender in Chicago and for the past eight months has been running the office with roughly 500 attorneys and over 70 investigators.

She is more than familiar than most with the cases that have sparked backlash and protests in Chicago as of late. She knows how these cases should run through the system and she's not afraid to talk about them or the people behind them.

At 53-years-old Campanelli has been arguing in the courtrooms of 26th and California since 1987. Since Tony Preckwinkle appointed her as the top dog , she's been combing through cases, advising counselors in her office, and catching up on current events. Recent headlines involving police misconduct, shootings, and police video tape revelations have her worried about the department and the city's leadership.

The handling of the Laquan McDonald case by the county's lead attorney she calls an outrage.

"There is no way the investigation of Laquan McDonald should not have taken 13 months,” she said. “A week maybe at the most…. It didn't take the DA in Baltimore more than 12 days to indict six police officers without video."

So what took so long in the McDonald case? Or the case of Ronald Johnson, who shot by police around the same time? That police video was only recently brought to light in a decision not to charge police with murder or misconduct only.

Philip Coleman's case, the man who was tased by at least a half dozen officers in a jail cell in 2012, was particularly disturbing to Campanelli since her clients are often indigent and downtrodden.

"For years, our clients came to us and said the officers did this to me, did that to me. We filed complaints . We told our clients, ‘File a complaint with the CPD.’ And they did. And those complaints were not heard. Nothing has changed."

Campanelli is bold and unafraid to speak out when it comes speaking up for defendants with little voice in a system she describes as broken.

"The system is more than broken,” she said. “It's chaos."

Campanelli points to problems with leadership in the city now and for decades past. While she falls short of demanding the resignations of Mayor Emanuel and the Cook County state's attorney Anita Alverez, she says their day will come.

"We have elections and people need to vote."

As for police, dating back to the commander Jon Burge who forced confessions years, Campanelli says the police have been treated differently in Chicago for decades. The firing of McCarthy, she believes, just the first step toward fixing it.

"A police officer is supposed to be treated like any other citizen. If a police officer commits a crime, he should be held to the same standard as anyone else,” she said. “Just because there is a union doesn't mean you can't do the right thing. You shouldn’t hide behind that."

Tuesday evening, Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez suggests Campanelli's rhetoric is all politically driven and in a statement says, in part:

“The citizens of Cook County should know and understand that Amy Campanelli is a political appointee of Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle, the Vice Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, is providing financial and political support to her own hand-picked candidate in the race for State`s Attorney.”

Alvarez is referencing Kim Foxx who is running against Alvarez and was also Preckwinkle's chief of staff.

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