As her primary rival took heat over the handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting case, Cook County State’s Attorney candidate Kim Foxx pledged that she would ask for a special prosecutor to investigate all police shootings.
After a little more than 100 days on the job, Foxx said she has learned that farming out cases to special prosecutors is harder than it looks. Since Foxx was sworn in in December, the State’s Attorney’s Office has charged two law enforcement officers with murder in connection with fatal shootings, but neither case was handled by a special prosecutor. In all, seven people have been shot — five fatally — by police officers in Cook County so far this year, according to a Chicago Sun-Times database.
Foxx said those charges were filed within weeks of the shootings, not the year-plus wait between when McDonald was shot 16 times and when Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced first-degree murder charges against CPD officer Jason Van Dyke. After losing to Foxx in the primary, two-term incumbent Alvarez turned the case against Van Dyke over to a special prosecutor. On Wednesday, Foxx said the outside prosecutor was necessary because of the public outcry over the way Alvarez had handled the case.
“The issue has always been, and the big issue was, as it relates to [Alvarez], it took 13 months in the Laquan McDonald case to make a decision whether or not to file or not file,” Foxx told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Editorial Board on Wednesday.
“What causes the distrust in the public is . . . when cases are taking a long time to have a decision made, or when no decision is made at all, and there is no light into how those decisions were made, when there’s no process,” Foxx said.
Alvarez announced murder charges against Van Dyke in November 2015, the same day the city released video showing Van Dyke firing 16 shots into the teenage McDonald. The lag between the shooting and charges remained the most potent case against Alvarez heading into the March primary, as protesters chanted “16 shots and a cover-up” at demonstrations across the city.
At the time, Foxx said the controversy had so shaken public trust in the state’s attorney’s office, that special prosecutors should handle every police shooting case.
Foxx said on Wednesday that the law requires the elected prosecutor to file charges before asking a judge to assign a special prosecutor, and that she was looking for a lawmaker to carry legislation that would clarify when a special prosecutor can be assigned to a case, even before an investigation is complete.
She declined to comment on specifics of what she’d like to see in the bill, but she said that in her 105 days on the job, she has learned that there is no reason a local prosecutor can’t bring charges against a police officer.
In January, CPD officer Lowell Houser was charged with first-degree murder just two weeks after Houser, while off-duty, allegedly shot his neighbor, Jose Nieves. In February, prosecutors filed first-degree murder charges against Amtrak police officer Laroyce Tankson just nine days after Tankson allegedly shot an unarmed, 25-year-old man near Union Station.
Longtime civil rights attorney Locke Bowman applauded Foxx for filing charges in those cases, and said that it could have been difficult to get a judge to assign a special prosecutor without a clear conflict of interest. Still, Bowman said he’d like police misconduct cases handled by an independent agency entirely outside the State’s Attorney’s Office, or at least by prosecutors within the office who don’t interact with police on other criminal cases.
“It’s not a cop-out for her to say, ‘I can’t set up a special prosecutor office on my own,’ ” Bowman said. “But as far as reallocating resources in her office, she can do that and I think she should.”
Ultimately, Foxx said she doesn’t believe the public cares whether a special prosecutor is involved in a police shooting investigation, so long as charges are filed in a timely fashion.
“I don’t think people disputed the outcome [in the McDonald case], that charges had been filed in that case,” Foxx said. “It was the 13 months and the outcry that made the charging decision happen.”