Activists waiting for appointment of Laquan McDonald prosecutor

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In this Oct. 20, 2014, frame from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald (right) walks down the street moments before being shot by Officer Jason Van Dyke. | Chicago Police Department via AP

A Cook County judge on Friday postponed selection of an independent prosecutor to investigate Chicago Police officers suspected of covering up for fellow officer Jason Van Dyke in the shooting of Laquan McDonald.

Chief Criminal Court Judge Leroy K. Martin said he still was waiting for responses after reaching out to “various public entities” he has contacted about taking up a probe into the conduct of officers who backed up Van Dyke’s account of the 2014 shooting.

Reports filed by officers who were at the scene when Van Dyke fired 16 shots into the 17-year-old McDonald largely gibed with Van Dyke’s claim that McDonald was moving toward him and had reared back as if to throw a knife, though dashboard camera video shows McDonald walking away from the officers.

“The court still awaits some response from these public entities, so at this time, the court is not in any position to make any appointment of any individual or any agency as a special prosecutor,” Martin said at a brief hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Martin scheduled a hearing for July 29, though it was not clear whether he would make an appointment then.

Locke Bowman, a civil rights attorney who led a coalition of activists who petitioned the court to assign a special prosecutor to investigate the officers, said he was disappointed by further delays to an inquiry into a shooting that took place nearly two years ago.

“We are very mindful that Laquan McDonald died more than 20 months ago,” Bowman said outside the courtroom.

“Time continues to march on. The circumstances of Mr. McDonald’s death were well-known on the day he was killed. Those circumstances were papered over in police reports that were dramatically at odds with the video that we have all seen.

“We think it’s a matter of critical importance that this be dealt with and be dealt with promptly. I’d be lying to you if I said that the delay isn’t causing us pain and frustration, and I speak not just for myself, but for the McDonald family the citizens and organizations that we represent.”

The probe is only one prong of the wide-ranging legal fallout of the McDonald shooting, which has galvanized activists in the months since the shocking video was released.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in November filed first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke the same day the city released the dashboard camera video, then in May — after losing a bid for reelection in the April election — she called for a special prosecutor to take the case. A coalition of activists and attorneys in February asked for a separate special prosecutor to investigate the officers who were on hand during the shooting, as well as detectives assigned to probe the shooting.

In January, the CPD announced Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh, and David March, the detective who investigated the McDonald shooting, had been assigned to desk duty while the criminal investigation of the shooting was ongoing. Walsh’s account backed up that of his partner, and March’s report on the investigation repeated statements by Walsh, Van Dyke and other officers— while never mentioning that the video of the shooting contradicted their version of events.

And federal investigators have been investigating the McDonald case for more than a year, in addition to a broader review of the department led by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division that began in December.

Bowman said he had faith in the Martin, and noted that state law governing the appointment of special prosecutors requires the judge to contact agencies such as the state attorney general to request help, as well as considering individual attorneys for the job.

Bowman’s group has proposed four candidates: former federal prosecutor Sergio Acosta; former federal judge David Coar; former judge and prosecutor Patricia Holmes; and former federal prosecutor Ron Safer.

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