A judge on Friday said he is contacting public agencies to find a special prosecutor to investigate an alleged cover-up of Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting by a Chicago police officer. Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr., head of Cook County Circuit Court’s criminal division, set another hearing for July 29.
Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed McDonald on October 20, 2014. Written police reports claimed that McDonald, 17, had moved menacingly toward officers just before Van Dyke opened fire. A police dashboard-camera video contradicts those claims.
The conduct of Van Dyke’s fellow officers has looked like a hot potato since November 24, 2015, when the city followed a judge’s order to release the video. State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez that day announced murder charges against Van Dyke but did not bring charges against the other officers.
In December, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans wrote a newspaper commentary that acknowledged calls for him to replace Alvarez’s office with a special prosecutor in the case because of her ties to the police. But Evans claimed he lacked authority to intervene and did not mention the other cops.
In February, a civil-rights coalition petitioned Martin to appoint a special prosecutor to take over both the murder case and the alleged cover-up.
Martin referred the petition to Judge Vincent M. Gaughan, who had been assigned the murder case.
In May, Alvarez withdrew her office from the case, leaving Gaughan little choice but to start a search for a special prosecutor. That search, according to the judge’s interpretation of Illinois law, required contacting every state’s attorney’s office in the state.
But Gaughan did not announce a decision on the request for a special prosecutor in the alleged cover-up until July 1. In a written order that day, Gaughan said a special prosecutor “shall be appointed” for “investigating and, if necessary, prosecuting any wrongdoing on the part of Chicago Police Department personnel.”
Gaughan’s order did not specify how many special-prosecutor offices there would be. He referred the alleged cover-up back to Martin, who could both appoint a special prosecutor and convene a grand jury.
If the judges want to, experts say, they could set up one special-prosecutor team to handle both the murder case and the alleged cover-up. The civil-rights coalition is recommending a team consisting of former federal judge David Coar and former federal prosecutors Sergio Acosta, Patricia Brown Holmes and Ronald Safer.
“We have waited far too long for the wheels of justice to begin to turn,” said Locke Bowman, an attorney representing the coalition. “We feel some frustration and some concern that the matter has been allowed to go on so long without any steps being taken in Cook County, as far as we can tell, to address the cover-up.”