A Cook County judge on Friday appointed Patricia Brown Holmes, a former judge who also has served as an assistant U.S. attorney, as the special prosecutor to look into whether additional Chicago Police officers covered up the circumstances that led to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Before announcing that he had selected Brown Holmes, Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. said none of the governmental agencies he was required to contact wanted the job.
Brown Holmes, 55, told reporters she was taking the “grave” responsibility as seriously as when she was appointed trustee of Burr Oak Cemetery — the historic black cemetery that was forced into bankruptcy after a burial site desecration scandal.
No one other than Officer Jason Van Dyke — who is charged with first-degree murder — has been charged in connection with the 2014 shooting death on a Southwest Side street.
“It’s not a matter of wanted to be involved. It’s a matter being asked to serve the public . . . and this is something I think that is very important to the public, that we get it right and that they have confidence in whatever the results may be,” Brown Holmes said after taking a formal oath before Martin.
Brown Holmes said she does have the power to convene a legal team to help her with her probe.
“I plan to take a look at the facts and go from there. I don’t have any preconceived notion about how it should go or what I’m going to do,” she said.
Earlier, Brown Holmes said she will meticulously look at the evidence before “making the right decision.”
“It’s not a matter of choosing sides and then coming to a result . . . ” she said.
“Many of us think we know what the evidence is because we heard this or we heard that. I would just say everyone should be patient and allow the process to play itself out . . . I’m going into it with a clean slate.”
In June, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan also announced that he will be selecting special prosecutor to handle Van Dyke’s murder case after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez recused herself.
Brown Holmes, a former chief assistant corporation counsel for the city, is currently a partner with the law firm of Riley, Safer, Holmes & Cancila.
She was born in San Diego and raised on the Far South Side of Chicago.
Brown Holmes went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for her undergraduate studies and law school. She is the past president of the Chicago Bar Association and the local chapter of The National Black Prosecutors Association. She is also a founding member of the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago.
Civil rights attorneys Locke Bowman and G. Flint Taylor, who filed one of the petitions seeking the special prosecutors, said they were pleased with Brown Holmes’ selection since she was one of the few candidates they had proposed.
Taylor said he was particularly pleased that Martin chose an African-American lawyer.
Bowman said he had “great regard, great respect and great confidence” in Brown Holmes.
“We are certain that Judge Holmes is going to get to the bottom of this. We’re confident that the investigation she will lead would be thorough, would be zealous and would be fair and will bring to justice those involved in the cover up,” Bowman said.
Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, and Detective David March, whose account of McDonald’s shooting conflicted with the graphic dashcam video, were placed on “administrative status” in mid-December.
Several other officers who were the scene also backed Van Dyke’s version of events — that he fired at McDonald because he was in his fear for life as the teenager waved a knife and came toward the officers.
One officer said she was looking down as she put her patrol car in park and apparently did not look up again in time to witness the hail of bullets.
McDonald had a knife but was moving away from police in the 4100 block of South Pulaski Road and was 10 feet from Van Dyke when he was shot 16 times.