A Cook County judge on Monday approved the formation of a grand jury to hear evidence and weigh indictments on whether Chicago police officers participated in a cover-up in the fatal shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald.
“I have no objections,” Cook County Judge LeRroy K. Martin Jr. said in court, signing off on the request by special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes to impanel a grand jury to hear evidence in the case.
The move comes six months after Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder for shooting McDonald 16 times as he walked away from him while holding a knife on the Southwest Side in 2014.
Late last month, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson moved to fire seven officers — including Van Dyke’s partner — for allegedly lying in their accounts of what happened in the shooting. Their stories ran into a problem: video footage from a police dashboard camera that showed exactly how the shooting unfolded. The video — released to the public more than a year after the shooting — sparked months of protests.
Holmes — a former Cook County judge who’s now a partner in a private law firm — was named in July as the special prosecutor to look into whether other Chicago Police officers whitewashed the circumstances that led to the death of McDonald, 17.
Holmes would not say who or how many people have fallen under the microscope of her probe and would not speculate on outcomes in the case.
“It all depends on what the grand jury thinks of the evidence. They could indict or they could not,” she said.
Judge Martin said the grand jury would be formed by Sept. 26 — the day of the next status hearing in the case — at which point Holmes can begin presenting evidence.
There’s no set amount of time for the grand jury to reach a decision.
“It could be weeks. It could be months. I don’t anticipate it would be years,” Holmes said, noting that grand jurors could ask for additional evidence to aid their decision-making process.
Holmes explained why she chose to seek a grand jury rather than shouldering the decision on whether to file any additional charges herself.
The grand jury process “is viewed as the constitutional way to do it. It’s more fair. You have 16 members of the grand jury as opposed to one individual making a decision. And in a decision that’s this weighty and important, I think the public would want to have, you know, some oversight and by having a grand jury there’s more than just me making a decision, so I’m not coming out and saying ‘yea’ or ‘nea’ and people are like ‘Whoa! Wait a minute. What’d you do?'” Holmes said.
“There are going to be other people who are going to be helping to make that decision, and giving a view of the info that maybe one person doesn’t have … so it’s fair and it’s impartial and it lends credibility to the process.”
Holmes said her investigation would be done in a manner to ensure “that we can look at everything very fairly and very clearly and make sure that, you know, that we aren’t violating anyone’s rights. Because the individuals who are being investigated have rights. And we want to make sure that they are treated fairly and there’s no rush to judgment and we’re doing things that ought to be done.”
As is standard procedure, the grand jury proceedings will remain secret because “it protects the parties involved,” Holmes added.
“Think of it this way: what if I were investigating you for something and then at the conclusion of the investigation I determine you didn’t do anything. You don’t want everybody to know right? You want to be able to walk out … like nobody knew.”
Holmes, in addition to previously serving as a Cook County judge, worked as an assistant U.S. attorney, assistant state’s attorney for Cook County, and Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel for Municipal Prosecutions for the city of Chicago. She is currently a partner in a private law firm.
Asked if the McDonald case was one of the hardest cases she’d ever worked, she responded: “It’s still early for me to say it’s one of the hardest cases, it’s a tough case, I have friends who are police officers … and I understand the family in this case, it’s a case that tugs at you from both sides.”
Holmes is not the only special prosecutor appointed in the aftermath of McDonald’s death.
In August, Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon was appointed special prosecutor in the case against Van Dyke.
The shocking video of McDonald’s death also led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation of the Chicago Police Department, the firing of Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and the appointment of a panel to look into how the CPD holds cops accountable.
That panel recommended a slew of changes, many of which Mayor Rahm Emanuel has implemented or begun to. For instance, he has recommended replacing the Independent Police Review Authority with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.