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Editorial: Leave no loopholes in cases vs. cops

Back in 1972 during the Watergate scandal, the famous source Deep Throat explained that when you move against a clout-heavy target, “you’ve got to be sure you’re on the most solid ground.”

EDITORIAL

That’s a lesson the Cook County state’s attorney’s office appears to have overlooked when it charged Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a young woman named Rekia Boyd. By bringing charges not solidly based on facts — and shying away from more serious charges that might have been justified — prosecutors left open a legal loophole that led Cook County Circuit Judge Dennis Porter to abruptly acquit Servin on Monday.

The first sentence of the Illinois statute on involuntary manslaughter says such a crime involves a person who “involuntarily” kills another. But Judge Porter said Servin acted with intent when he deliberately fired into a crowd. And an intentional act, the judge said, can’t be involuntary. Case closed.

It was an absolutely stunning decision. For the first time in nearly two decades in Chicago, charges were brought against a police officer for shooting and killing a civilian, yet the case was swept away on a technicality. The lesson for county prosecutors is clear: When bringing charges against a police officer, go full throttle, just as you would against any other defendant. No half measures. No watered-down charges.

Servin was off duty and upset about noise when he fired at a group of people near Douglas Park in 2012, striking a man named Antonio Cross in the hand and hitting Boyd in the back of her head. Servin claimed Cross pulled a gun, but prosecutors said all Cross had was a cellphone. No gun was found.

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy says Servin shouldn’t have been indicted in the first place, which is hogwash. We can’t imagine a scenario in which an ordinary citizen would get a pass for fatally shooting into a crowd, whether the citizen felt threatened or not.

A criminal trial should always be driven by the facts, and never by the national zeitgeist. But at a time when shootings of citizens by police have created an outcry across the nation, Chicago simply must do a better job of assuring innocent ordinary people that the legal system will protect them.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez defended her decision to charge Servin with — and only with — involuntary manslaughter, saying it was based on a “very careful legal analysis.” And who knows? A different judge might have agreed with her.

But somewhere in this mess an opportunity was lost to tell the good people of Chicago, in every neighborhood, that the law is on their side.