In a surprise move in court Thursday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez filed a motion to recuse herself and her aides from the prosecution of Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Alvarez requested that a special prosecutor be appointed to take her place in the case.
After the hearing Alvarez said in a press release, “My primary goal in bringing a charge of First Degree Murder in this case is and always has been about seeking justice for Laquan McDonald. Today I believe I am fulfilling this obligation by requesting that the court turn the case over to a special prosecutor.”
“While it has not been an easy decision, I believe that it is the right one because it will help to avoid unnecessary legal delays and provide continuity in the handling of this very important and complicated case,” Alvarez said. “It would also ensure that one designated prosecutor will handle this case as it proceeds to trial.
Alvarez goes on to say that there is “no legal conflict of interest that would prevent the State’s Attorney’s Office from continuing the prosecution of this case;” however, she says, “I believe that the results of the recent election and the impending transition of this office make this the best and most responsible decision.
Many critics of Alvarez would disagree that there was no conflict of interest, and have alleged that the state’s attorney’s strong ties to the Chicago police union have indeed jeopardized Alvarez’s ability to find justice for Laquan McDonald. Additionally, hey accuse Alvarez of failing to prosecute police officers in similar cases during her two terms in office. To these critics, a coalition the Chicago Tribune describes as around 25 different community groups, prominent attorneys, and members of the McDonald family, Alvarez’s motion to recuse herself is a clear victory.
Kim Foxx, the candidate for state’s attorney who squashed Alvarez’s attempt at being reelected this year when she won the Democratic primary for the position in March, released a statement to say that she believed “this is clearly the appropriate decision in this case.” Foxx does not appear to face a Republican adversary for the general election and is expected to replace Alvarez as Cook County state’s attorney.
Before the Democratic primary, a motion was filed by Alvarez’s critics to appoint a special prosecutor in her place. It appears the state’s attorney has given into their pressure after failing to win the primary election.
It is up to Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan to approve Alvarez’s motion to recuse herself. Gaughan is expected to inform the court of his decision on June 2.
On Monday grassroots activists in Chicago bandaged the ailing city in paper banners to remind voters in Tuesday’s primary election to dump their top prosecutor, Anita Alvarez. The incumbent Cook County State’s Attorney is up for reelection in the wake of national scrutiny for her failure to prosecute police brutality her role in the perpetration and coverup of violence against the black community.
The group Assata’s Daughters, an organization of black female activists and their allies came together to create 16 banners against the injustices committed by Alvarez’s office. The 16 banners represent the 16 fatal shots fired at LaQuan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke.
Protesters and politicians alike have called on Alvarez to resign since video showing Van Dyke firing upon the black 17-year-old emerged in November 2014, evidence that Alvarez, who had received the video two weeks after the shooting and not brought any charges upon the officer, had assisted in covering up the crime for 13 months.
In a public message, organizers at Assata’s Daughters asked the world to follow the banner campaign under the hashtags, “#ByeAnita”, “#ByeHilary”, “ResignRahm”, and “16banners,” for “#16 shots.”
Working tirelessly, banners were erected throughout the city, such as “#AdiosAnita 16 shots and a cover up,” which hangs on Western Avenue at 18th Street. With messages like, “Blood on the ballot,” and “Justice for Rekia, no votes for Anita,” the group has encouraged voter engagement in their efforts to free the city from a state’s attorney’s grasp.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy are believed to have worked with Alvarez to keep the video of McDonald’s death in their own hands for over a year, failing to file charges until a judge made the video public. Van Dyke was indicted on December 16, 2015 on six counts of murder. If convicted, he will face a 20 year to life sentence and be the first CPD officer to be punished for an on-duty fatality.
With McCarthy fired and Emanuel on the chopping block of public opinion but refusing to resign, the public has paid special attention to Alvarez, who was the only official with the power to prosecute Van Dyke and countless others.
Since entering office in 2008 as the first Hispanic woman in her position, Alvarez failed to prosecute police for killing civilians 68 times. Until the release of the LaQuan McDonald dash cam video, none of these killings had documentation from her office detailing why she had decided not to bring charges.
Last week a civil suit was filed against Alvarez, the CPD, and the Independent Police Review Authority by the journalists responsible for forcing the controversial dash cam video’s release.
“The public has a right to know why Chicago Police, IPRA, and State’s Attorney Alvarez responded so slowly to the police misconduct and lawbreaking evident in the video,” said independent journalist Brandon Smith. “What was their thought process in doing so? Would they have ever instituted any oversight, let alone criminal proceedings, but for the forced release of the video?”
Before facing civil suit, Alvarez lost the support of the Cook County Democratic Party, which in January came out to endorse leading opponent Kim Foxx in the race for state’s attorney. The Chicago Tribune has also endorsed Foxx, along with her former boss Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, one of the most powerful Democrats in the state of Illinois.
The scandals that embroil Alvarez’s campaign are often complex; however, the messages activists are sending are straightforward: Alvarez failed LaQuan McDonald. She failed to charge CPD officer Dante Servin who murdered Rekia Boyd. She rules over a police force where false confessions are the norm and supports the black site Homan Square where minorities are illegally detained and tortured. She defends mass incarceration in the era of police reform. She has incarcerated victims of sexual assault and survivors of domestic violence.
According to the Chicago Reader, Cook County’s criminal justice system is in shambles:
Its jail remains crowded, and the state prison population—more than half of which is from Cook County—has grown over the last seven years, records show. Most inmates are there for nonviolent offenses. The vast majority are minorities, and a third or more are thought to be dealing with mental illness. When they’re released, almost all of them return to the same poor, segregated neighborhoods they came from.
To many Chicago activists and community organizers her failure to indict Chicago police officers for rampant misconduct and brutality is particularly abhorrent considering her reputation as one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the country by Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice. In 2015, a grassroots organization called Project Nia reported that 7,703 arrests were made on Chicago Public School grounds during the 2013-2014 school year, accounting for 20% of all juvenile arrests in Chicago.
Kim Foxx and Donna More, the two candidates running against Alvarez in today’s primary have both denounced Alvarez’s disinterest in fighting injustice and equally condemned her refusal to act responsibly when faced with evidence of police conduct, particularly in the case of LaQuan McDonald. They have taken similar positions with regards to youth justice.
While Black Lives Matter, Assata’s Daughters, Black Youth Project 100 and other leading activists groups have been active in condemning episodes of police brutality, sought indictments against officers, rallied around reform legislation, and in supported victims and their families, this election marks one of their most prominent efforts to change the course of politics and the cycles of injustice that are perpetuated by a broken criminal justice system.
Emanuel will not be up for election again for another three years, so as demand for political officials to face retribution for their crimes increases, Chicago youth leaders, some too young to vote themselves, have turned their attention to the state’s attorney’s office. The decision to engage in politics directly has been a controversial one in activist communities, but destroying the chance for Alvarez to gain another term has become a critical objective
Assata’s Daughters, along with Black Lives Matter activists and black youth leaders have been involved in the campaign against her since repeated calls for her resignation were ignored. Social and mainstream media alike have covered their protests disrupting campaign events.
To rally for higher voter turnout by connecting political campaigns across disparate levels of government, some Chicago activists have taken #ByeAnita a step further. Assata’s Daughters joined others at a political protest of a Donald Trump rally Friday as its members blocked traffic on I-290 chanting “if you are saying dump Trump, then say bye Anita too.”
According to the group, both Donald Trump and Anita Alvarez have a record for anti-black violence, inviting the comparison between Alvarez and Trump’s prominent white supremacist endorsements and record for inciting violence against black audience members and protesters at his rallies. “We see a direct link between Trump’s overtly racist white nationalist campaign and Anita Alvarez’s record of filling jails and prisons with black bodies using dogwhistle tough-on-crime rhetoric,” Assata’s Daughters said in a group statement. “We do not want a future where Anita Alvarez or Donald Trump hold decision-making power over our lives.”
“Bye Anita” organizers rally with community members at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago on March 10. (Photo: Sarah-Ji, Via TruthOut)
“To this day, Hillary Clinton has yet to condemn Chicago’s anti-black mayor,” said Assata’s Daughters organizer Tess Raser in a public message. “Mayor Emmanuel has conspired with State’s Attorney Alvarez during his own re-election campaign to cover up the police murder of Laquan McDonald —a life that to Emmanuel, Alvarez, and Clinton did not matter. Any politician who supports Emanuel should consider themselves implicated in his misconduct. Anti-black politicians are not welcome in Chicago whether they are running for State’s Attorney or President of The United States.”
Despite the group’s growing political activism, the movement remains rooted in the victims of police brutality, sending a clear message of love and solidarity for LaQuan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and so many other young victims of violence.
According to Raser, it was touching to find out that Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronnieman Johnson, whose murder was also covered up by Anita’s office, “really felt loved by seeing the banner honoring her son. And calling for justice for her son.”
“Not only did Alvarez fail to prosecute the officer who killed Ronnieman,” Raser told Injustice.in, “her office has also attacked Dorothy for advocating for justice on her son’s behalf.”
Mothers like Dorothy Holmes, Raser explained, “were failed the moment this city decided that their neighborhoods needed to have a militant police presence. They are failed on a daily basis by the erasure of their children’s legacy because of the ways in which the media uses their stories of Black Death to sell papers and because this country loves a good lynching.”
Under the care of Chicago’s business and political elite, Alvarez has allowed black males to be hyper criminalized and supported one of the nation’s most violent police forces.
Alvarez has pandered to the police unions and corrupt politicians long enough.
A Jackson Park Hospital surveillance camera captured Officer Clauzell Gause – measuring in at 6 foot 6 and 235 pounds – attacking the patient who was already in handcuffs after allegedly assaulting the officer earlier, according to prosecutors.
The patient had been involuntarily admitted to the hospital to undergo a mental health evaluation, prosecutors said. While he was having blood pressure taken, the patient suddenly stood up and punched Gause in the face. A witness – presumed to be Gause’s partner – immediately subdued and handcuffed the patient.
Gause, 40, surrendered Tuesday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building and will face a charge of official misconduct which, if convicted, comes with a sentencing range from probation to up to five years in prison.
Gause, wearing a bulletproof vest, shoves the handcuffed patient into a wall and is then knocked over immediately from a strong right punch from the officer. In a continued fit of rage, Gause then leans over the man and holds him down as he take two more punches at the victim with his left hand.
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said that a second uniformed officer witnessed the attack but is not expected to face charges.
Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, said Gause was immediately relieved of his police powers and placed on paid desk duty, though it was inherently unclear if any additional disciplinary action was imposed at the time.
“The Chicago Police Department has zero tolerance for misconduct or any activity which undermines the integrity of our officers and our efforts to rebuild public trust,” Guglielmi said in a prepared statement.
The felony charge comes amid a reeling police force seeking to build trust with embattled communities city-wide amid spikes in violent crime and eroded confidence in law enforcement since the court-ordered release last November of LaQuan McDonald‘s fatal shooting by white police officer Jason Van Dyke. Months of protests resulted nationwide and Alvarez was ousted in March, in large part due to the efforts of activists in organizing large bases of minority voters redacting their previous support for her administration.
“You and I and those like us who chose a life of public service, we’re held to a higher standard,” said Judge Adam Bourgeois Jr. speaking to Gause directly, “That’s the long and short of it. Whatever happened, happened. You have to face the consequences.”
According to city records, Gause amassed “at least” 11 complaints from November 2006 to June 2014, mostly alleging an excessive use of force.
Notably, the defendant was one of the 11 Chicago police officers named in a federal excessive-force lawsuit stemming from a December 2013 arrest where the victim was allegedly beaten with brass knuckle, stripped naked, and left in the cell for hours with a bloodied face and broken tooth.
Records show the city settled the lawsuit for $60,000 last December.
The City’s police board announced Tuesday afternoon that Servin, who was off duty when he shot 22-year-old Boyd in a crowded area of Douglas Park early in the morning on March 21, 2012, would be stepping down two days before a hearing was being held to determine whether or not he should be fired for his recklessness.
While activists and community leaders are undoubtedly pleased to see this man no longer on the payroll, his voluntary resignation from the force nonetheless means the department per standard procedure will drop all disciplinary charges against him, which in turn preserves his ability to collect pension and other retirement benefits that otherwise would have been lost had he been terminated.
The quiet end to Servin’s tumultuous history on the force is marred by his negligent homicide of an unarmed female civilian which forced the city to pay a $4.5 million legal settlement, as well as making him the first officer to face criminal charges related to an off-duty fatality.
Yet, despite it all, he will still be allowed to keep pension on his $97,044 annual salary.
“Why are we even fighting? He should be in a cell, like every other criminal serving his time,” said Boyd’s brother, Martinez Sutton, “Even if I’m fighting to get this guy fired, he’s free to go about his life. He’s free to get another job.”
Servin fired multiple shots from his car into a group of Boyd’s friends for allegedly ignoring him in the park on the city’s West Side. Servin had been arguing with them about noise and claimed at the time that Boyd’s friend, Antonio Cross, had pulled out a gun.
It was later proven that Cross was pulling out his cell phone but at that point, the five bullets Servin fired had already hit him in the thumb and struck Boyd in the head.
“Everybody knew it wasn’t going to go through,” Sutton said regarding Servin’s police board hearing this week, “It’s like making a movie. You know that movie is being made. You know how the ending will go. You just don’t know the release date.”
In a letter to U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has asked both Cook County and federal officials to investigate the racial slurs heard over Chicago Police Department radio frequencies.
A male voice was first heard on March 13th saying, “typical f—ing n—–,” during a conversation between 911 call center dispatchers and police officers.
To which a different male voice replied, “Find out what radio that comment came from.”
Then a female voice answers, “We don’t get radio numbers, but I’m already hollering for my supervisor.”
A male voice then says, “Black lives matter, my a—, f—ing n—–s.”
According to Mayor Emanuel, there have been three more instances of people broadcasting similar slurs over the police radio frequencies.
Authorities at the Chicago Police Department, which has been conducting an internal affairs investigation of the incidentswww, believe that the speaker in the transmissions is not a police officer or employee of the CPD.
“Subsequent investigation has indicated that the transmission was made by an unauthorized private citizen using non-city-issued equipment,” Emanuel wrote in his letter asking Fardon and Alvarez to investigate this as a hate crime, recalling that, “[a]lthough police frequencies are legally restricted to official use, the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) and Office of Emergency Management and Communications (“OEMC”) have, at times, encountered private citizens who, with the aid of equipment that is publically available, make unauthorized transmissions o police radio frequencies.”
“The language used and the racial intolerance expressed do not represent the values of our police department or our city,” Emanuel wrote.
Activists, however, are not convinced that the messages came from outside of the department. Community leaders have called for the mayor to find and fire whoever made the racist transmissions.
Chicagoist notes that one Twitter user who regularly tracks police scanner claims that the original broadcast was made hours after the police were deployed to the Donald Trump rally which was eventually cancelled due to the risk of violence between supporters and protesters.
Dash cam footage showing the October 20, 2014 fatal exchange between the police officer and McDonald caused national protests after it was released by the Chicago District Attorney’s Office in November 2015. In the footage, McDonald can be seen allegedly holding a knife but in no way threatening the responding officers at the time of the shooting.
In addition to grotesqueness of his killing, protesters also said that the footage being delayed for over a year was a reflection of a broken criminal justice system and then-district attorney Anita Alvarez’s complacency in its dysfunctions. Alvarez was voted out of office earlier this month after citywide organizations behind the #ByeAnita campaign.
Dean Angelo, president of the union, told AP that Van Dyke is in a “very difficult situation financially” while he waits to stand trial. Van Dyke has been suspended without pay by the Chicago Police Department.
“He might be on the roof, he might be in the office, he does anything we need,” Angelo told the Sun-Times, also noting that it is not unprecedented. “We’ve probably had 100 people in no-pay status who we got jobs or hired at the hall. This is nothing new.”
Whether this is typical or commonplace nonetheless does not make it ethical, and many community leaders were quick to express outrage upon learning about the move.
“Not only is it insulting and outrageous, but it is a slap in the face,” said Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, a Chicago-area pastor at St. Sabina church, “It is the reason we have this continued breakdown between law enforcement and community. This is much bigger than LaQuan McDonald, this is an insult to the city of Chicago. It is an insult to him and his family, and it is an insult, I think, to police officers.”
Frank Giancamilli, speaking on behalf of the Chicago Police Department, told ABC News today that the “decision to hire Mr. Van Dyke was completely independent of the Chicago Police Department.”
According to Pfleger, this news brings police-community relations “back to square one”
During Democratic primaries on Tuesday, voters sent a strong message to the prosecutors responsible in the cases of Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice. Both the Cook County State’s Attorney in Illinois, Anita Alvarez and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty in Ohio were defeated by opponents in the democratic party.
The downfall of both prosecutors are a win for Black Lives Matter and other activists groups who became involved because of high-profile cases where prosecutors did not seek indictments for police officers who killed unarmed black youth, despite holding enough evidence to charge them with murder.
In Illinois, Kim Foxx defeated Anita Alvarez, the two-term state’s attorney who held onto evidence of police brutality in the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald for over a year before publicly revealed dash cam video forced the arrest of the Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who fired 16 shots into the 17-year-old.
According to the latest reports, Foxx is leading by 58% of the vote, while Alvarez managed to obtain 28%. A third contender, Donna More received 13%.
In the city, Foxx won in predominantly black and Hispanic wards on the city’s West and South Sides, and the ethnically diverse North Side lakefront wards.
Alvarez scored well in wards with a white voter base on the Northwest Side, South and Southwest Sides where large numbers of police, firefighters and city workers reside, according to a breakdown of primary results by Chicago Magazine.
“Our struggles here are very real,” Foxx, an African American woman from Cabrini-Green in her victory speech Tuesday. “The need to rebuild a broken criminal justice here in Cook County is not work that should be taken lightly.”
Behind Kim Foxx’s winning campaign to become the democratic nominee were two notable strengths, a powerful back story and the financial and political resources of her former boss, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Foxx impressed upon many voters that she was in a unique position of understand injustice after growing up in one of Chicago’s toughest housing projects. She was a victim of sexual abuse and was homeless at one time herself. In the general election, Foxx will face the Republican pick for the state’s attorney’s office, Christopher Pfannkuche.
“Alvarez was cast by activists as an unprincipled cop-coddler who prioritized her working relationship with the Chicago Police Department over truth and justice,” Leon Neyfakh wrote for Slate. “Foxx undoubtedly got a significant lift from the efforts to unseat her opponent.”
Many critics of Alvarez did not directly endorse either Foxx or More, but carried the simple hashtag message #ByeAnita in highly-visible grassroots displays. The group Assata’s Daughters literally took to the sky with airplanes carrying banners associating her with another controversial politician, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Assata’s Daughters celebrated by singing “Bye, Anita” Tuesday night and released a statement asserting their own victory. “Chicago Black youth kicked Anita Alvarez out of office,” the group said in a statement. “We did this for Rekia. We did this for Laquan. We won’t stop until we’re free and Kim Foxx should know that as well.”
Just after midnight on Wednesday, single-term Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty conceded to his opponent Mike O’Malley. O’Malley, a relative newcomer to the race who did not officially kick off his campaign until January 21, received 55.4% of the vote at last report. He does not face a challenger from an Indecent or Republican, so O’Malley has likely secured the position.
As one writer at CleveScene put it, the results of this race were a referendum on McGinty’s handling of the death of Tamir Race. McGinty was scorned for advocating against criminal charges for the two police officers who shot and killed the black 12-year-old in 2014.
“They need an individual who is willing to go out and meet with individuals and restore some type of confidence in that office and I’m that individual and I will be doing that,” O’Malley told Fox8. “I will be meeting with people I will be talking with people on the streets. It’s going to take a large effort to bring this system back, but I am willing to work with the common pleas judges, the public defenders, all the people who thought they were perhaps bullied in the past will have a partner, and that partner will be me and my team.”
It’s rare for incumbent prosecutors to be voted out of office. According to one study, they win re-election 95 percent of the time, and typically they run unopposed. This is in part because most voters just don’t pay attention to prosecutor races, and usually don’t have a vivid sense of the office’s powers. As one local district attorney told me last year after completing a successful campaign, “Most people don’t know what the district attorney does.”
According to Neyfakh, the races in Cleveland and Chicago could not have been more different. While Kim Foxx slammed Anita Alvarez for her role in covering up the murder of Laquan McDonald, Mike O’Malley took a hands-off approach when it came to Tamir Rice.
In a sense, both Alvarez and McGinty ultimately were shamed by scandal. And without the efforts of the families of the slain victims of police brutality and their hard-working supporters, high-profile cases such as Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice could have remained obscure. The results of these primaries indeed frame the efforts of Black Lives Matter and grassroots youth movements as a political success.