Alvarez wants special prosecutor in Laquan McDonald murder case

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 she didn't charge until more than a year after he shot a black teenager 16 times.

- 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 she didn't charge until more than a year after he shot a black teenager 16 times.

In a motion that surprised civil rights attorneys who were set to continue their push to force Anita Alvarez off the case, her office filed a motion to have someone else prosecute Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is charged with first-degree murder in the October 2014 killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

Alvarez was voted out of office under withering criticism of her handling of the case and is leaving office in December. She didn't charge Van Dyke until hours before the court-ordered November 2015 release of the dashcam video.

On Thursday, even as she was asking off the case, Alvarez continued to defend herself against allegations that her close political relationship with the police officers' union created a conflict of interest and made her reluctant to pursue criminal cases against officers in misconduct and shooting cases.

She explained her reason for asking off the case in a statement: "I believe that the results of the recent election and the impending transition of this office make this the best and most responsible decision."

If Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan approves her motion, as is widely expected, 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.

After the hearing, the attorneys who had been trying to force Alvarez's removal from the case said they hoped that the judge would appoint an independent prosecutor who is not affiliated with Alvarez' office or that of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

"There is, as a matter of reality, a close nexus in terms of personnel and in terms of non-aggressiveness in these matters between the state's attorney and the (state) attorney general's office," said lawyer Locke Bowman, who represents a coalition trying to have Alvarez removed from the case.

Madigan's office didn't immediately respond to a phone request for comment.

Van Dyke was also in court Thursday to ask to be excused form future routine status hearings in the murder case.

His attorney had made the request last month, citing threats the Chicago Police officer has received when arriving at and leaving the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Van Dyke has had people flash gang signs at him, spew out racial slurs such as “white devil” and has had protesters blast the sounds of sirens so close to him, it makes it hard for him to hear those who accompany him to court, according to a four-page motion filed by defense attorney Daniel Herbert.

At Thursday’s hearing, Gaughan said a “security plan is in place” and he thanked Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in that regard.

Prosecutors argued that McDonald should continue to come to court, saying that the boisterous protests that used to accompany every Van Dyke appearance have died down.

Herbert’s motion also claims that the media is as intimidating as the activists and passersby are to Van Dyke, who is accused of shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014.

Journalists have joined others in blocking 37-year-old Van Dyke’s entry to the courthouse, “grabbing at him and attempting to pull him into large crowds,” according to the motion, which was presented to Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan on Wednesday.

Once a cameraman blocked Van Dyke’s father from going into a revolving door and shoved him, the motion said. Another time, Van Dyke’s father almost “lost his balance” and fell when members of media allegedly shoved and grabbed him.

Van Dyke’s supporters have also been hit by equipment wielded by the press, according to the motion, which says that the officer’s “personal safety has been jeopardized.” On the last court date in January, a supporter of Van Dyke’s had to be hospitalized because of an injury to the head, the motion said.

“We’re still amazed at the appetite and the venom towards my client,” Herbert told reporters last month.

“He remains public enemy No. 1.”

Of those who see Van Dyke as a pariah was an individual who allegedly shouted out to the officer, “I am going to kill you, I am going to f— you up. I hope you get raped or killed in prison. You are a racist.”

Van Dyke’s father was “physically battered” during a previous courthouse visit, Herbert said.

The older man’s truck was also damaged by a protester, and Van Dyke and others with him were spit on and chased by other motorists as they attempted to drive off, the motion said.

“We’re still amazed at the appetite and the venom towards my client,” Herbert told reporters last month.

“He remains public enemy No. 1.”

Of those who see Van Dyke as a pariah was an individual who allegedly shouted out to the officer, “I am going to kill you, I am going to f— you up. I hope you get raped or killed in prison. You are a racist.”

Van Dyke’s father was “physically battered” during a previous courthouse visit, Herbert said.

The older man’s truck was also damaged by a protester, and Van Dyke and others with him were spit on and chased by other motorists as they attempted to drive off, the motion said.

Herbert said he is perplexed at the “selective outrage” against Van Dyke. Politicians don’t appear to have the same rage for alleged cop killers and the accused gunman of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee, the defense attorney said.

The release of the dashcam video showing Van Dyke shooting McDonald over and over led to major protests and federal and local investigations of the police department. It also prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire the police superintendent, Garry McCarthy.

Alvarez has defended her office's handling of the case, which she has called very complicated, and her record in filing charges against police officers. But the timing of her announcement of charges — just hours before the court-ordered release of the video — helped feed accusations of a cover-up by the department and Alvarez's office.

On Thursday, Alvarez expressed hope that by handing over the case to a special prosecutor, she might help restore faith in the legal system.

"It is my greatest hope that the citizens of Chicago who have been shocked and polarized by this crime and this tragedy will understand and welcome this decision," she said.

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