Anita Alvarez on Wednesday morning scolded Kim Foxx, saying she callously used video footage of the Laquan McDonald shooting in her latest campaign commercial.
The two candidates are getting in final punches before the March 15 Democratic primary for Cook County state’s attorney, in which former prosecutor Donna More also is running.
“I think it demonstrates a lack of taste and a lack of decency,” Alvarez said at a breakfast hosted by the City Club of Chicago.
“I may not like it but I know that political opponents will try to score whatever points that they can from a shocking case like this one,” said Alvarez, noting that McDonald’s mother did not want the video to be publicly released.
“Foxx is willing to use this horrific video as a tool to score political advantage,” she said. “Ms. Foxx claims that I did nothing in this case for 400 days. That is simply not the truth — it’s a bold-faced lie. I did the opposite of nothing, I did everything that I was expected to do as a prosecutor.”
The Foxx ad in question shows McDonald walking in the street just before he is shot, but does not show the actual shooting.
After Alvarez’s address, Foxx campaign spokesman Robert Foley doubled down.
“We want to make sure Cook County voters know what is at stake and Anita Alvarez failed to take action for 400 days after the murder of Laquan McDonald, which demonstrates her lack of judgement,” he wrote in an email.
Alvarez again slammed Foxx for violating campaign finance laws by failing to disclose a poll paid for by her main political backer: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“She was found to have violated campaign finance laws and refused to accept responsibility for that, which is a basic thing that we ask of all of our offenders: accept responsibility,” Alvarez said.
Foxx, who beat up on Alvarez in her own City Club address last week, has said she disagrees with the Illinois State Board of Elections decision because the poll, intended to gauge her viability as a candidate, was conducted months before she entered the race.
McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. Video of the shooting was captured by a dashboard-mounted camera. The city fought unsuccessfully in court to prevent the public release of the video. After it was released, just before Thanksgiving last year, it prompted protests. Van Dyke was soon charged with murder.
Alvarez, who has faced blistering criticism for not indicting Van Dyke sooner, pointed to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office, which worked with the Cook County prosecutors on the case, to explain the sluggish timeframe.
“The pace on the federal side is not the same as ours. It just isn’t,” she said.
She added that no federal investigators ever asked her to hold off on indicting Van Dyke.
Alvarez went on: “Because the federal investigation still continues today, there are details that I cannot comment on or elaborate about, but there are very important reasons why I enlisted the FBI to conduct a thorough and meticulous investigation on this case.”
A small group of young protesters, including some who have hounded Alvarez for weeks, called for her ouster and briefly blocked the entrance to the gathering Wednesday morning at Maggiano’s banquet hall near Clark Street and Grand Avenue.
“It was a little hard getting in the front door here,” Alvarez said. “I see the same people and have gotten to know them, so as a mother I hope maybe we can get them some to-go bags to make sure that they eat today.”
Referring to the McDonald video, Alvarez said: “I understand why a layperson might say it is the only piece of evidence a prosecutor should need, but we must build a solid and thorough investigation that includes all possible evidence available in order to develop the strongest possible case to secure a conviction.”
Relying on one piece of evidence, she said, “can be dangerous.”
“The state’s attorney’s office needs to do a better job of educating and communicating with the public when police shootings do occur,” she said. “My office is now taking steps to post information on our website about the status of pending police shootings and the legal standards that we use in the analysis of these cases.”
She added that she’s “never been afraid to charge any police officer. … Under my leadership the state’s attorneys office has charged nearly 100 police officers with crimes, including cases of excessive force.”
Because she has prosecuted police cases, she said, “I understand what it takes to build a case that will result in a conviction” — and it can be even more difficult to get a conviction in a bench trial instead of a jury trial — as was the case with Chicago police officer Dante Servin.
A Cook County judge, after acquitting Servin of manslaughter in the shooting death of Rekia Boyd, said his hands were tied by Alvarez’s choice of the lesser charge, and that Servin should have been charged with murder.
“I charged what I felt we could prove,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said endorsements for her opponent, including a Sun-Times editorial endorsement of Foxx published this week, don’t bother her.
“I don’t put a lot of weight into those endorsements, because obviously the only endorsement I want is the endorsement of the voters of Cook County,” she said.
In the background of the political back-and-fourth a group of civil rights attorneys and activists calling for Alvarez’s removal from the McDonald case filed a petition last week seeking Alvarez’s removal from the McDonald case and the appointment of a special prosecutor.
The first hearing on the petition before a Cook County judge is scheduled for Friday.
Alvarez said Wednesday her number-one issue is the “horrific crime rate” in Chicago that includes many acts of violence. There have been 93 homicides so far this year, she said, noting that the city is on track for 700 murders for first time since the late 1960s.
Alvarez also emphasized her passion for the job, which she said has been a constant since joining the state’s attorney office in 1986.
“Lord knows I could have left years ago and made lots of money in the private sector, but I have’t done it,” she said.
Alvarez twice referred to how often she goes running, and how often during those runs people stop her and compliment her work and encourage her to keep it up.
That includes, she said, a self-admitted felon who interrupted a run to shake her hand not long ago, and a woman in Oak Park whose relative was a victim of violent crime. Alvarez said the woman “had tears in her eyes when she told me how grateful she was of the justice she had received.”