Chicago coalition seeks special prosecutor in McDonald shooting

The McDonald shooting has triggered a flurry of federal and local investigations

Associated Press

CHICAGO — A coalition of civil rights attorneys and others said Tuesday they have filed a court petition seeking to force Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to hand over the prosecution and any further investigation involving the fatal police shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald to a special prosecutor.

The petition, which comes as Alvarez finds herself in the heat of a primary battle for her job in large part because of this case, contends that her ties to police force and the officers' union raise serious questions about her ability and willingness to prosecute Officer Jason Van Dyke and perhaps charge other officers.

Alvarez has defended herself against harsh criticism from activists and others who wondered why it took more than a year to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder, saying she handled the complicated case correctly and carefully.

Jim Bray, a spokesman for the attorneys from Northwestern University's law school and the People's Law Center and others, said that Alvarez's ties to law enforcement amount to a conflict of interest for her.

Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald on Oct. 20, 2014. McDonald was armed with a knife, but on now-famous video from a police car dashcam he seemed to be walking away from Van Dyke when the officer opened fire and shot him 16 times.

Since the video's release, McDonald's death has been a focus of the national debate over gun violence and the treatment of African-Americans by the police. Protesters have turned the shooting into a rallying cry, their chants of "16 shots and a cover-up" becoming familiar as "I can't breathe" did after a video in New York that showed Eric Garner being taken down by a police officer in a fatal chokehold.

The McDonald shooting has triggered a flurry of federal and local investigations of Van Dyke and other officers who were at the scene and officers who investigated it. At the same time, the shooting prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launched a civil rights probe similar to those that it conducted after police-involved deaths of other African Americans in other cities.

Illinois law dictates that in an ongoing criminal case it's the presiding judge who decides whether a special prosecutor is needed because of potential bias by a state attorney's office. Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan is overseeing the Van Dyke's case.

Special prosecutors have been appointed in several high-profile cases in Chicago over the years.

One, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, was asked in 2012 to look into whether then-Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley or his family members sought to impede an investigation into the 2004 death of a man punched by David Koschman, Daley's nephew. His 2014 report concluded that there wasn't proof to support that allegation. A retired judge, Stuart Nudelman, was also appointed as a special prosecutor in 2009 to review allegations of police torture going back decades ago under former Chicago police commander Jon Burge.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

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