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Anita Alvarez Is Recusing Herself From Prosecuting The Laquan McDonald Case

By Rachel Cromidas in News on May 5, 2016 6:16PM

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez discusses the shooting of Ronald Johnson by Chicago police officer George Hernandez on December 7, 2015. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Anita Alvarez, the embattled Cook County State Attorney who lost her bid for re-election earlier this year, is recusing herself from prosecuting the city's latest high-profile case of police misconduct: the brutal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014.

Alvarez has caught serious criticism for how she handled McDonald's shooting case, which took her office over a year to investigate before murder charges were brought against Van Dyke. The charges came last November, just as the city was ordered to release a damning video that showed Van Dyke shooting McDonald 16 times as the teen attempted to run away and fell to the ground, fatally wounded.

Alvarez has long defended her ability to prosecute the case, saying she did not have a conflict of interest. Nonetheless, at a routine court hearing for Van Dyke Thursday morning, Alvarez reversed her position, according to the Sun-Times, refusing herself from the case and asking for the judge to appoint a special prosecutor from another county.

Alvarez said in a statement released by her office that there is no legal conflict of interest," preventing her from prosecuting the case, but she is stepping aside anyway because she lost the democratic primary election this winter to challenger Kim Foxx (who will go on to run for the office in the general election this fall):

"I believe that the results of the recent election and the impending transition of this office make this the best and most responsible decision. More than anything else, our role as prosecutors is to seek justice and do all that we can to promote confidence in our criminal justice system. It is my greatest hope that the citizens of Chicago who have been shocked and polarized by this crime and this tragedy will understand and welcome this decision and respectfully support the efforts of all elements of the criminal justice system as the prosecution of Jason Van Dyke moves forward."

Van Dyke's court hearing was held so that his attorney's could ask that he be excused from appearing at routine status hearings for the case, due to the threats and jeers he sad he receives from onlookers whenever he visits the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, including racial slurs and gang signs. Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is presiding over the case, said a security plan was in place for Van Dyke, and that he would address Alvarez's motion on June 2.