Anita Alvarez on Re-election Efforts in Wake of Laquan McDonald Shooting
As the fallout of the Laquan McDonald shooting continues to unfold with Tuesday’s resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, some political observers expect questions surrounding the investigation and prosecution of the Chicago police officer who shot McDonald to play a major role in the race for Cook County state's attorney.
Tonight, we talk with incumbent State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez about recent calls for her resignation, why it took her more than a year to file first-degree murder charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke and why she thinks voters should give her another four years in office.
Alvarez faces two other candidates in the March 15 Democratic primary: Kimberly Foxx, a former chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle; and Donna More, a former county and federal prosecutor. Foxx appeared on “Chicago Tonight” in November and More will join us on Wednesday.
“I have no intentions of resigning. The voters have voted me in twice, and I believe I have the confidence of the voters.”
Below, some highlights from our discussion and exchanges between Alvarez and "Chicago Tonight" host Phil Ponce.
On the mayor's announcement to dismiss Garry McCarthy
"It's the mayor's prerogative as to who he wants in that spot. I haven't always agreed with the superintendent, but I will continue to work with whoever is in that spot. ... I was a little surprised, but again, it's the mayor's prerogative. But I think it's important that the public know that the best interests are at heart. As far as effecting me, again, I will work with whatever superintendent is in there."
On her reaction to calls for her resignation
"I have no intentions of resigning. I have an election coming up in March, so the voters of Cook County will have the opportunity to speak to my election. I was voted in to do what I believe is a very tough job. Being the top prosecutor here in Cook County, I make decisions each and every day, and those decisions–no matter what decision I make, someone's going to be unhappy, because that's the nature of what I do. The voters have voted me in twice, and I believe I have the confidence of the voters."
On 'misinformation' surrounding the Laquan McDonald case
"I think the biggest question is, 'What took so long?' ... I get it. When I first saw that video, I was appalled about what I saw on that video. I understand people not understanding what takes place. But I will not apologize for doing a very thorough, meticulous investigation."
On the fact that it took 400 days to bring charges
"What we have to take into account here is that I am a career prosecutor. When you're putting cases together ... you can look at the video and think, 'Well. That's all you need. That's it.' Well, no. One video: it's a very powerful, it's a horrific piece of evidence, it's a key piece of evidence, but it's not the only piece of evidence. What's important is that we build the strongest case possible."
On what other evidence may have contributed to the 400-day period
"There were many, many witnesses that were interviewed during this investigation, and we looked at everything. So there were witnesses to be interviewed, there's forensics that need to be worked up. We were leaving no stone unturned. ... Justice is my number one goal. Justice isn't just announcing an arrest. Justice comes at the end of the trial, when the offender is being held accountable for his actions. In this particular case, we wanted to make sure that we meticulously investigated everything, built the strongest case possible so that this officer will be held accountable at the end of trial. I've been doing this a long time. I know what the defense attorney is going to argue."
On the timing of the first-degree murder charge
Ponce: People see political overtones in all of this. Did the mayor or anyone on his behalf ever ask you to delay the charge until after the election?
Alvarez: No. I had no conversations with the mayor about this investigation at all. My conversations were with the United States Attorney's Office, my assistant state's attorneys who were working the case and the FBI. The public should know that this was truly an independent investigation."
Ponce: So no one from the mayor's office contacted you or anyone in your office, saying, 'Hold off on this. This is a hot one, we'll take care of it after the election'?
Alvarez: Absolutely not.
On whether she supports an independent inquiry
Ponce: Lisa Madigan is calling for a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department. Others are calling for a special prosecutor. Do you support an independent inquiry?
Alvarez: I support what Attorney General Madigan just announced.
Ponce: A federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department: You support that.
Alvarez: Well, yes. Anything that would improve community relations, which would increase the confidence that our communities have within the police department. I welcome that.
Even in this investigation, there are questions for the police department that I think the city and the police department have to answer. For example, in the Laquan McDonald case, those eight officers: none of them had a Taser. The question becomes, what if they did? Would we be sitting here today talking about this? There's a question: Why don't we have audio on these–
Ponce: There is audio. There's faint audio on the tape, is there not? We've listened to it and there appears to be a faint sound of ambulances. Are we mishearing it?
Alvarez: Well, the tapes that we have do not have audio inside that squad car. And that's a question for the police department. Is it mechanical issues? What is it? I think we have to make sure that these things are in place. So I would welcome any outside independent agency that would help us improve the relationship between the community and improve the public trust of the police department. Absolutely.
On the nature of the ongoing investigation
Ponce: You have said that you've found no police misconduct, but that your investigation is still ongoing. What are you looking for?
Alvarez: I'm not at liberty to say exactly, other than that the investigation continues.
Ponce: Was it one of the things you mentioned? Some of the officers did not have Tasers and that sort of thing?
Alvarez: Right. And that may be a policy issue, not a criminal issue. But it's a question that needs to be answered. The U.S. attorney has not made his findings. When we started this joint investigation back in December of 2014 our intention was to stand up there together, to announce whatever decision I made on state charges, and he as to federal. Obviously, I said I had to get out in front of this first, and so we're still waiting for him to finish up.
On whether she plans to seek the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)
Alvarez: I haven't made up my mind at this point, but I have gotten their endorsement in the past, and I think–
Ponce: Would you accept it?
Alvarez: I would accept it. There are a lot of great men and women in blue who we work with each and every day. I'd be proud to have their endorsement. And even with the charging of an officer, and an action that I think was out of line–I know there are many police officers out there who have come up to me and they tell me they understand it. They get it. And they're supportive.
On what she wants citizens and voters to know about her time in office
"In my time, in the last seven-and-a-half years in office, I've done some great new innovative programs, making sure that we are smart on crime, making sure that we are working to get the right gun laws in place, because we do have a gun violence problem here in the city of Chicago, we definitely do, and we have to make sure that we have the right laws. ... But there's also room for us to be more innovative with our diversion programs–I've increased them from eight to 30, making sure low-level offenders get a second chance."
Recent statements by Alvarez
On Nov. 24, hours before the city of Chicago released the video depicting the fatal shooting, Alvarez held a press conference in which she charged Van Dyke, explained the timeline of the investigation and fielded questions from reporters. Below, some highlights from her press conference and a chance to watch it in full.
On the timeline of the investigation
“My office was made aware of this shooting by the Independent Police Review Authority within two weeks of the incident. We received a copy of the video on Nov. 4, 2014, and we immediately opened an investigation and began working with the Independent Police Review Authority to gather information on this case. On Nov. 19, 2014, we were contacted by the FBI regarding the shooting and we provided a copy of the video to the FBI the following day. At that time the FBI offered to work with our office and we accepted that offer. Subsequently, I met with the FBI special agent in charge and United States Attorney Zach Fardon in December of 2014. And from that time on we were engaged in an active, joint, ongoing criminal investigation at both the state and federal levels.”
On the timing of the announcement of the charges
“To be clear, the judge’s order that the city of Chicago must release the video by Nov. 25 certainly moved up the timing of our announcement but it did not, in any way, dictate our decision to charge this defendant with first-degree murder. I made that decision internally weeks ago.”
On the complexity of the case
“As I explained, when you’re investigating police officer cases, it’s not the same as investigating one gang member shooting another. It isn’t. … You have to understand the use of force model. You have to understand how officers are trained. Officers do have a right to use reasonable force. They can use deadly force when appropriate. So you have to understand all of that before you look at a case. You simply can’t, on a case like this, make a split second decision by watching the video one time and determine what occurred. There were countless number of witnesses interviewed in this case, physical evidence looked for, looking for video tapes from the businesses surrounding there. There’s a lot of work done on this case—an absolute lot of work. And that adds to the year that we’ve been investigating.”
On her message to young people
My message is we are listening. We are hearing and that while none of us expect officers to not do their job –we expect them to do their job—but we also know there are a few bad apples that do go too far and break the law, and it’s my job to do something about it.
Find all "Chicago Tonight" stories on the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Follow Hunter Clauss on Twitter: @whuntah