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Special prosecutor requested in Laquan McDonald case

A coalition of ministers, elected officials and civil rights attorneys filed a petition Tuesday seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to take over the prosecution of Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald — alleging that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is too constrained by a conflict of interest to handle it.

The source of Alvarez’s conflict of interest, according to the petition, is her alliance with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a political bond that should disqualify her from the case.

Locke Bowman, a civil rights attorney who filed the petition with the Circuit Court of Cook County, said that Alvarez, who’s in the midst of a tough re-election campaign in which the McDonald case has been a key issue — has a history of seeking political endorsement from the FOP.

“She indicated that when she received their endorsement in 2012 that she was humbled and very grateful for it,” Bowman said. “I think that people who follow politics in this city have the understanding that the FOP is an extremely potent force in our local politics and a politician offends the FOP at his or her peril.”

BRIEFING: The Laquan McDonald videos, police reports

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Bowman, who has a successful track record in seeking a special prosecutor, held a news conference at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law to announce the petition.

Mike Carson, who heads up Alvarez’s re-election campaign said Tuesday via email: “Anita has had no contact with the FOP and did not receive a questionnaire from them nor has she met or spoken with any representative from FOP. She has not requested their endorsement during this primary cycle.”

FOP President Dean Angleo, reached Tuesday afternoon by phone, said: “I have not had any relationship with the state’s attorney.” Angelo said he’s met Alvarez only once, in passing, at an event for the Chicago Federation of Labor over the summer. “And that was it,” he said.

Alvarez also issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in which she rejected the petition to remove her from the McDonald case and mocked the very public way in which it was handled.

It read, in part: “If any party with standing wants to make that request and legal arguments that would merit the appointment of a special state’s attorney, they should do so in a court of law, not a press conference. But it is clear that there is no legal conflict in this case, and prosecution will proceed to hold Jason Van Dyke accountable for the murder of Laquan McDonald.”

Bowman said the petition was not politically motivated — despite the fact that many of those supporting the it are also backers of one of Alvarez’s primary opponent, Kim Foxx.

“The only interest is an interest in seeing objective and fair justice done,” Bowman said. “This has nothing to do with Kim Foxx.”

Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia, who has endorsed Foxx, said Tuesday that Alvarez had lost the confidence of the public when she took more than a year to charge Van Dyke with murder.

Other elected officials backing the request for a special prosecutor are State. Sen Kwame Raoul, U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, and five aldermen: Howard Brookins (21st), “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Gilbert Villegas (36th).

Alvarez has repeatedly said she worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI on the McDonald case and did nothing wrong in the prosecution and would have done nothing differently.

Bowman said Alvarez’s “commitment is wavering and uncertain when it comes to the need to prosecute police officers.”

“Virtually never has there been a case in Cook County where a police officer has been prosecuted for lying, for fabricating reports, for doing the things that apparently happened in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald shooting,” he said.

“Very seldom has there been a case in which this elected state’s attorney has prosecuted a police officer for the infliction of force, including death by shooting, and we’ve cited (in the petition) over half a dozen questionable homicide cases that have not been prosecuted by this state’s attorney’s office,” Bowman said.

He added that when cases do proceed against police officers, they seldom end in convictions. To highlight the assertion, Bowman pointed to the case of former police officer Dante Servin, who was found not guilty of manslaughter by a judge who later hinted that his hands were tied in the case, and Servin should have been charged with murder.

Van Dyke was charged by Alvarez’s office with murder late last year after shooting the 17-year-old McDonald 16 times in October 2014.

The charges came more than a year after the shooting and hours before a video of the shooting was released to the public.

The next court date for the petition is Feb. 26 before Criminal Court Presiding Judge Leroy Martin.

“We’re looking for someone independent, appropriately zealous, to take over that prosecution, to move it forward in every possible way,” Bowman said.

Bowman is working with attorney Flint Taylor. The pair previously successfully petitioned the court for a special prosecutor in the case of David Koschman. In that instance, prominent Chicago attorney Dan Webb was appointed a special prosecutor after a Sun-Times investigation. Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko — a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — was eventually prosecuted and convicted for Koschman’s 2004 death.

Taylor said the petition is a “first step towards legislation creating a special prosecutor office that deals with all police misconduct and police brutality cases.”

Contributing: Mick Dumke