A resolution calling on the Circuit Court of Cook County to appoint a special State’s Attorney to handle the prosecution of the officer charged with murdering Laquan McDonald narrowly passed the County’s Committee on Criminal Justice yesterday, with commissioners rehashing some familiar arguments on a hot-button issue.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Commissioners Richard Boykin and Larry Suffredin. Last month, Boykin faced pushback and procedural stumbles, including from Suffredin, during a hearing he called on the Homan Square detention site. The site, which borders Boykin’s West Side district, has been characterized as a Chicago Police Department “domestic black site” used for interrogations. Last month, commissioners argued the issue went beyond the Board’s scope of authority, stated worry that members might be deposed for their testimony, and said the body shouldn’t put a political stake in the ground in the midst of an investigation.
Echoing sentiments from last month, Boykin told commissioners yesterday, “We are at a critical juncture in relationship between law enforcement and communities of color.”State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s relationship with CPD officers and the timing of her charges against Officer Jason Van Dyke amount to a conflict of interest, he argued, and are part of a “crisis of confidence in our criminal justice system in Cook County.”
Suffredin said the resolution was in line with state statute (55 ILCS 5/3-9008). There are three circumstances under which a special prosecutor can be brought on, special counsel Laura Lechowicz Felicione told commissioners: 1) if the State’s Attorney can’t attend, is sick or is absent; 2) if a judge or interested party seeks the appointment of a special prosecutor because there is a conflict of interest with the State’s Attorney, or 3) if a State’s Attorney recuses themselves. Suffredin said the resolution falls under the second category, because it simply asks the judge to make the appointment.
Commissioner John Fritchey, who has publicly tangled with Alvarez in the past few weeks, said this kind of resolution isn’t the way to approach the issue. He said he supports statewide legislation requiring a special prosecutor in cases like this, and while he respects Boykin’s intention, “It’s not really our call to make.”
Commissioner John Daley agreed. “It’s outside the jurisdiction of the County’s Board,” he said. He cited Baltimore, Cleveland, Texas as examples of special prosecutors “rush[ing]” to indictments. Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy agreed: “We should stay out of it.”
“We are now injecting the official position of this board into a case that is so controversial already that we are just adding to the controversy,” Commissioner Peter Silvestri said, echoing his arguments about the County’s role in Homan Square. “This needs to be tried in Circuit Court.”
Commissioner Bridget Gainer said this was an extraordinary case and she’d vote in favor. “We don’t live in just a fact vacuum, we live in a world of perception and politics,” she said, “to create an additional layer of independence is something that is warranted.”
Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski came to Boykin’s defense multiple times. “The City of Chicago is a suburb of Cook County,” adding the Board should and can be a voice for change. “I think we have standing here to say ‘enough is enough.’ Who is going to protect these people?”
Commissioners Boykin, Gainer, Garcia, Moore, Suffredin, Tobolski voted in favor. Commissioners Daley, Morrison, Murphy, and Silvestri voted against, and Commissioner Fritchey voted present.