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Delay in forming grand jury to probe possible McDonald cover-up

The city took 13 months to release dashcam video of the shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. | File photo

A Cook County judge said Monday there’s been a delay in forming a grand jury to hear evidence on whether Chicago police officers participated in a cover-up in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald.

At a hearing two weeks ago, Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. told Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes that he hoped to have a grand jury in place when they next reconvened.

But at a hearing on Monday, Martin said more time was needed to impanel a grand jury.

“He thought it was something that should get done in two weeks and that’s not the case,” Holmes said after the hearing.

“It’s a process,” Holmes said. “Jury summonses need to go out. And jurors have to show up and be questioned to determine if they can be fair and impartial. It takes time.”

Martin set the next court date in the case at Nov. 16, at which point Holmes felt confident a grand jury would be in place.

Former Cook County Judge Patricia Brown Holmes has asked for a grand jury to hear evidence into whether other police officers conspired to cover up the fatal shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times
Former Cook County Judge Patricia Brown Holmes has asked for a grand jury to hear evidence into whether other police officers conspired to cover up the fatal shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged last year with murder for shooting McDonald 16 times as he walked away from police officers 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.

There’s no set amount of time for the grand jury, once impaneled, to reach a decision in the case.

“It could be weeks. It could be months. I don’t anticipate it would be years,” Holmes said earlier this month, noting that grand jurors could ask for additional evidence to aid their decision-making process.

Laquan McDonald
Laquan McDonald | provided
Provided

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.

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 murder 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.