Monday Morning Thoughts: Why Did Alvarez Wait a Year to Charge Cop with Murder?

Office Van Dyke Arrested
Office Van Dyke Arrested

Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Nov. 24, 2015. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

For years, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has been called one of the worst prosecutors in the country. That she charged Jason Van Dyke with murder for the killing of Laquan McDonald seems to some to be political calculation.

Those people note that she knew about the shooting a year ago and had access to the video footage for a long time. The Chicago Tribune reported, “Alvarez said she has never seen anything like the video in her three decades in law enforcement. She called the video ‘graphic,’ ‘violent’ and ‘chilling’ and said that it ‘no doubt will tear at the hearts of all Chicagoans.'”

However, critics are quick to note that Ms. Alvarez failed to charge Officer Van Dyke last October. She waited 13 months until the judge ruled that the dashboard camera footage would be publicly released before charging the officer with murder.

Ms. Alvarez publicly claims that she was waiting until the investigations were completed, but many critics believe otherwise.

“There are an average of 50 police shootings of civilians every year in Chicago, and no one is ever charged,” said Craig Futterman, one of the attorneys who investigated the story, to the Chicago Reporter. “Without the video, this would have been just one more of 50 such incidents, where the police blotter defines the narrative and nothing changes.”

Alderman Roderick Sawyer, the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, last Tuesday questioned why it took Ms. Alvarez 13 months to charge the police officer.

“It’s politically motivated that you decide to do it at this time when you have generously had 10 months — I won’t even go back to the full 13 months — to make a determination to file charges and didn’t. Oftentimes, it takes days to make these types of determinations,” when there’s an incriminating video of Van Dyke firing 16 shots into McDonald’s body, Mr. Sawyer said.

He added, “The burden lies with the state’s attorney’s office on why this was held as long as it has. Maybe the dual state and federal investigation delayed it. But there is no legitimate reason why it was stalled.”

Ms. Alvarez’s office shot back, claiming police-involved shootings trigger “long, meticulous and thorough” investigations that typically take between 10 and 20 months to complete.

“We’ve had an ongoing investigation with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office since very shortly after the shooting occurred. We’ve been working diligently with our federal partners on the complex investigation. It was our intention to announce the decision to bring the charges with the U.S. Attorney’s office. But, that was not possible. Their investigation is still going on,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.

She added, “The court’s decision to release this video has changed the timing of this announcement but it did not dictate the decision to bring charges. With the video going public, the state’s attorney felt it was in the interest of public safety to make this announcement.”

But Curtis Black from the Chicago Reporter notes, “It was just about a year ago that a city whistleblower came to journalist Jamie Kalven and attorney Craig Futterman out of concern that Laquan McDonald’s shooting a few weeks earlier ‘wasn’t being vigorously investigated,’ as Kalven recalls.”

The source told them “that there was a video and that it was horrific,” he said.

The Reporter notes, “Without that whistleblower—and without that video—it’s highly unlikely that Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke would be facing first-degree murder charges today.”

“When it was first reported it was a typical police shooting story,” Jamie Kalven said, where police claim self-defense and announce an investigation, and “at that point the story disappears.” And, typically, a year or 18 months later, the Independent Police Review Authority confirms the self-defense claim, and “by then no one remembers the initial incident.”

“The real issue here is, this terrible thing happened, how did our governmental institutions respond?” Mr. Kalven said.  “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”  To him this response is “part of a systemic problem” and preserves “the underlying conditions that allow abuse and shield abuse.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts


  1. Tia Will

    “And from everything we’ve learned, compulsively at every level, from the cops on the scene to the highest levels of government, they responded by circling the wagons and by fabricating a narrative that they knew was completely false.”  To him this response is “part of a systemic problem” and preserves “the underlying conditions that allow abuse and shield abuse.”

    I do not believe that this should come as a surprise to anyone. This “protect ourselves at all costs” mentality for our own benefit, even if to the harm of others, is nearly ubiquitous in our our systems. I chose the plural on systems deliberately since it is not just governmental agencies that does this. The California prison system has been under lawsuits for years because rather than improving conditions, they chose to stall and obfuscate. The UC system chose to drag its feet in the Keyser matter rather than admitting and rectifying error. Private business is equally complicit. Medicine was until about 30 years ago when mistakes and negligence were routinely hidden rather than arbitrated with slow improvement over the intervening years is a prime example. The tobacco companies lied, covered up evidence, and sowed doubt long after they were aware of the adverse health consequences of smoking. Numerous shenanigans with the automobile industry both here and abroad have been used to cover up defects and duplicitous practices in automobile manufacture with VW emissions testing only the latest in a long chain of attempted cover ups. This is not just the police and the judicial system. This is our power and financial gain above all else system exerting itself in a public setting. 

  2. PhilColeman

    In this remarkable era of instant electronic communication, ready retrieval of masses of information, and unparalleled quantities of photographic evidence, citizens are completely baffled by the fact that–with all that immediate relevant information–why does it require months and months to decide what to do?

    The column opined that the process was politically influenced. An astonishing discovery of the obvious. What is more obvious in instances like this is that the delay in rendering judgment is deliberate. Surely this particular prosecutor, for instance, could not possibly have had a 13-month schedule of higher priority items on her desk to prevent her from giving attention to a matter that polarized the entire Chicago community. She waited, doubtless hoping the fervor would diminish, or maybe something else would happen to diminish or eliminate her charged responsibility to render a decision. Alas, the calculated delay only made things worse.

    “Justice delayed is justice denied,” but even worse than that is deliberately delayed justice only further degrade public confidence in what is fast becoming the late-justice system. The only solution to this delay tactic is to pressure legislators to enact legislation setting specified time-line for public prosecutors to do their job. Better yet, attorneys are accustomed to record “billable hours” to clients as a matter of routine. In high-profile cases like this case, require the attorney general to document her chronology of time spent on this case and then submit the bill to her client–the Chicago public.

  3. zaqzaq

    Why hasn’t anyone asked the Feds why it has taken 13 months for them to announce a decision on this case?  Look how long they took on the Brown and Martin shootings.  It would be nice to get an explanation from Obama’s Department of Justice on this.  Were either the DA or mayor up for election anytime in between the shooting and the filing of charges last week?  After all the mayor is a buddy of Obama and worked with him as his chief of staff.

  4. Frankly

    Rahm Emanuel’s re-election combined with the Democrat’s clear catastrophic 2016 election expectations  are the reasons that neither the local DA nor the Feds jumped on this until now.  This is what Chicago politicians do.  Just like the Mob, they take care of family.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Spot on. Rahm Emanuel of the Obama School of Politics needed to get re-elected, and this potentially ugly case could impact the 95% of the black vote he most likely received. Just like Libya was caused by a cheap Internet video.

          1. David Greenwald

            By leeway, you mean attributing disinterest? Not paying attention to this issue is how these problems continue to fester.

  5. Anon

    I just read a column in The Week, and was appalled by its frankness.  In part it read:

    As a former New York City police Capt., I know how cops treated uncooperative civilians back in the good old days… beating, painfully handcuffing, arresting, and sometime shooting those who gave us a hard time. These brutal tactics were covered up with reports that claimed the suspect “reached for something” or attacked a cop, and were “an inextricable part of the policing culture in America.” But that was before nearly every citizen was armed with a cell phone camera, and communities went on alert, having seen with their own eyes cops shooting fleeing suspects in the back, choking them to death, and physically abusing teenage girls. Among cops accustomed to old– school tactics, there is a furious sense of betrayal” at being second-guessed.” But police have to accept that scrutiny of their actions is now inevitable– and “will lead to better policing.” Departments now must screen out belligerent Cowboys, use body cameras to keep both cops and the civilians on their best behavior, and train officers to diffuse threats whenever possible.”

    What I find so surprising is that a city police captain knew what was going on (this his officers were using excessive force and brutalizing the public), and appears to have accepted it as the way it should be – cops protecting cops no matter what.  Now that body cameras and cell phones come into the picture this law enforcement officer has a “come to Jesus” moment and decides that such behavior by cops is suddenly unacceptable when apparently previously he had no problem with it.  I don’t think this guy even understands how hypocritical his statement comes across.

    What we need is more COMMUNITY POLICING:

  6. TrueBlueDevil

    Interesting that the Vanguard continues to concentrate on politically oriented crime 2,000 miles away when it seems like we have had a recent string of violent crimes here in Davis.

    Or is this the new norm?

    I haven’t cross checked to see how many of these happened on the weekend.

    Nov 24th – Pair of crimes: a victim robbed on Russell by two Hispanic males, one who had a shotgun. This crime maybe be linked to the next crime as they happened 30 minutes apart.

    Nov 24th – Three to five Hispanic males rob two women downtown and point an item in their face, unclear if it was a weapon.

    Nov. 18th – attempted robbery at McDonalds (Mace), white female and black male suspects, gun used.

    Nov 15th – Three young men jumped on Sixth Street and beaten with baseball bats, all knocked unconscious and apparently unable to provide any descriptions. Or they were threatened enough that they won’t give a meaningful description for understandable reasons. Original article said they were “tipsy” and thus couldn’t provide many details. One victim actually had the imprint of a baseball bat on his head. One hospitalized.

    Nov 4th – White male with dreadlocks strong-arm robbery of a female near Aggie Village.

    Nov. 2nd – Male victim robbed near Lake at 4PM, dragged by the Cadillac Coup as suspects escaped. Alleged criminal described as a black male teenager. Halloween.

    Nov 2nd, 8:30 PM A man assaulted and robbed by a black male at Carl’s Jr.

    Nov 2nd (approximate) – A 13-year old robbed of his cell phone by three white males in a Cadillac (Alhambra Drive).

    Cell phone robberies – 2 other locations.

    Oct 20 – two Hispanic males rob three young men sitting in a car at Tanglewood Apartment, one alleged criminal brandishes a metal pipe.

    Oct 17th – a Hispanic man robs a victim at gunpoint on Research Drive at 5PM.

    1. Topcat

      … the Vanguard continues to concentrate on politically oriented crime 2,000 miles away when it seems like we have had a recent string of violent crimes here in Davis.

      I would like to see more focus on local crime and a lot less focus on politically oriented issues in far off cities.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        Touche. And this is just what The Enterprise published, and what I found via a simple Google search for the past few months.

        The violence and frequency is alarming.

    2. David Greenwald

      “Interesting that the Vanguard continues to concentrate on politically oriented crime 2,000 miles away”

      Politically oriented crime?

      We cover political news, so if crime has policy ramifications like KetMoRee, we cover it.  We also cover the courts.  You’re welcome to submit any guest pieces you would like however if you wish to see something covered.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        There seems to be a focus on white-police-officer on black-victim crime.

        I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article on the bloodbath that is Chicago every weekend, or many other types of crime. This AM I heard on the radio that needle use is up fivefold or sixfold in San Francisco, is the same thing happening in Davis or the Central Valley / Sacramento?

        These seem like more relevant stories instead of George Soros generated stories.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        You’re welcome. To think this list doesn’t even include the downtown gang murder, and the gang rape in the park.

        Even if there is technically no increase in crime, the types, severity, and randomness is extremely troubling.

  7. Anon

    David Greenwald: “The violence and frequency is not increasing in Davis.

    I would say Police Chief Pytel would disagree with you in regard to violence, and I would trust his word – he should know.

  8. TrueBlueDevil

    Viewed a discussion tonight on the Megan Kelly program where there was a comparison of the political and legal reactions to media-highlighted crime in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Chicago.

    In Ferguson and Baltimore, there was a call for the DOJ to investigate within 2 days. I believe one came from an external source, the other came from one of the city’s themselves. Eric Holder (White House AG) inserted himself directly into one event right from the get go. Two days. One took a week for it to go full bore.

    Now in Chicago, Barack Obama’s right-hand man takes six months to involve the DOJ. Conveniently, enough time to let Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s heated election to Chewy Gomez conclude. Emmanuel won a contested election.

    What are the odds this tape and drama would have swung the close election the other way?

    It looks like Emanuel, Obama, and Holder play the Race card when it suits their political needs, and they bury it when needed. Justice was delayed here. Just like Libya, a cover up.

    There are loud calls to impeach Emanuel.

    Also loud calls to impeach Anita Alvarez, the AG.


Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for