When a Chicago police officer, on duty or off, shoots somebody, the numbers don’t always add up at City Hall or the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Indisputably that was the case — really questionable arithmetic — when a Chicago cop shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times some 16 months ago, which has precipitated a Justice Department civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department. And the numbers add up every bit as poorly in the case of Rekia Boyd, a young woman killed on March 21, 2012, when an off-duty police officer, Dante Servin, shot wildly into a crowd.
If the Justice Department hopes to get to the bottom of how justice runs aground in Chicago, it will extend its probe to include City Hall’s law department and the state’s attorney’s office. Chicago’s failure to hold officers accountable for misconduct cannot be blamed on the Police Department alone. Our city’s criminal justice troubles are more widely systemic.
As detailed Tuesday by Sun-Times reporters Mick Dumke and Frank Main, based on an examination of emails from the state’s attorney’s office, there is strong evidence the law department and county prosecutors in the Rekia Boyd case again slow-walked an investigation into police misconduct.
Five numbers tell the story:
$4.5 million. That is how much Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration agreed to pay Boyd’s family without even interviewing Officer Servin or witnesses under oath. While the city disagrees — and points out that the law department’s role is to defend employees in civil suits — we are told settlements are rare in such serious cases without obtaining depositions. The family’s lawyer assumed the city was eager to get this one behind them without having to put Servin under oath.
An assistant state’s attorney also found it curious that the city’s law department took no depositions before settling the case. “Seems unusual when a settlement is reached in less than a year,” William Delaney said in one of the emails.
Ten months. That is how long the state’s attorney’s office, headed by Anita Alvarez, apparently waited before interviewing Servin. By that time, Jan. 18, 2013, Servin was adding new details to his account of how and why he shot five times into a group of people in an alley next to his West Side home. He said that he had heard a gunshot and felt ‘something’ on the back of his head and believed he had been shot.
One year, one month and two weeks. That’s how much time went by before, on May 7, 2013, the state’s attorney’s office put in a request to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to do a trace on Servin’s gun, a Glock semiautomatic pistol, which he had not registered.
One year, eight months and four days. That is how much time went by before the state’s attorney’s office, on Nov. 25, 2013, charged Servin with a crime, involuntary manslaughter. But if the charge was a long time in coming, it backfired anyway. A judge found Servin not guilty and suggested Alvarez’s office should have charged him with another more serious crime, first-degree murder.
Three years and eight months. That is how much time went by after Boyd was killed before then-Supt. Garry McCarthy, on Nov. 23, 2015, announced he would fire Servin. But why even then? Because the incendiary video of Laquan McDonald was to be released the next day. The superintendent and mayor were bracing for a firestorm. Servin should have faced disciplinary measures years early. He finally would be.
The fundamental question is this: Can the police department and the state’s attorney’s office, who work together daily, be trusted to aggressively investigate and prosecute police-involved shootings? Can the city’s law department be trusted to do its part properly? Do they understand they serve the public first — and not the mayor’s office or the Fraternal Order of Police?
Civil rights lawyers this week called for a special prosecutor to take over the Laquan McDonald case. They don’t trust Alvarez. Other activists have called for special prosecutors to take over all police-involved shootings. They don’t trust the whole system.
All too often, the numbers don’t add up.
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