Anyone who has followed my stuff on this blog even casually knows that, because of their behavior, deeds, and actions, prosecutors are not my favorite group of people. And topping my list of least favorite prosecutors has always been Anita Alvarez, Cook County (Chicago) State’s Attorney. There are lots of reasons for this, many of which are detailed below in Chicago Tribune articles by Eric Zorn. I won’t detail my own opinions about her here so as not to become the defendant in a specious libel suit.
Most recently Alvarez came under fire for her handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting by Chicago police, and this seems to have been “the straw” that broke the voters’ backs. However, it’s really about much more than just her handling of that case. It’s about years and years of the blatant abuse of prosecutorial power.
In yesterday’s democratic primary in Cook County, challenger Kim Foxx defeated Alvarez by more than a 2-to-1 vote margin. The people have spoken.
See the ThinkProgress story here.
And for more from Eric Zorn at the Chicago Tribune ……..
This from Eric Zorn writing for the Chicago Tribune March 6, 2016:
If slow-walking the investigation of a police killing in order to coordinate with foot-dragging federal officials were Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s only offense against the ideals of justice, she’d deserve a pass.
Yes, Alvarez should have exhibited more urgency and outrage after seeing the police dash-cam video of Officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down Laquan McDonald in October 2014. She ultimately charged Van Dyke with murder 400 days after the fact, just hours before the public release of the video, but has yet to bring charges against other officers on the scene whose exculpatory reports were dramatically at odds with the video.
These sins of omission are what’s galvanized support for her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary, but I have plenty of bigger beefs with Alvarez over her lack of judgment, proportion and fairness in office.
Recently I told you about the case of Tiawanda Moore, a young woman who went to the police station to file a complaint saying an officer had groped her. When she felt investigators were trying to intimidate her, she surreptitiously began recording the interview with her smartphone, so Alvarez charged her with a felony violation of Illinois’ anti-eavesdropping laws.
Here, in no particular order, are other reasons voters should replace Alvarez:
• For more than four years, she fought to keep Daniel Taylor in prison for a double murder that had been committed while he was in police custody.
She inherited the 1992 case when she took office in late 2008 but continued to balk at releasing Taylor until her conviction integrity unit, nudged along by federal appellate courts and the Illinois attorney general’s office, agreed in June 2013 to let him go and correct a shocking miscarriage of justice.
• Alvarez acted with a bit more dispatch in 2011, when new DNA evidence surfaced implicating a convicted rapist who’d lived near the victim in a 1991 rape and murder in suburban Dixmoor, and not the five teens who’d been convicted of the crime. It took her only eight months to grudgingly release the three who were still in custody.
But then the following year she gave an interview to “60 Minutes” in which she couldn’t “say for sure” that the men were innocent because, who knows, maybe the convicted rapist had simply “wandered past an open field and had sex with” the already-dead victim.
It gets worse! Back in the ’90s, before the verdict in the original case, one of the defendants, knowing he’d been falsely accused and fearing the worst, went on the lam for two months. After he was exonerated by DNA, he sought a pardon on the bond-jumping conviction from the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, and Alvarez had the audacity to oppose him.
• In 2010, Alvarez charged Chicago Transit Authority attorney Sladjana Vuckovic with a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison for allowing a client in a police interrogation room to use her cellphone to call relatives.
Vuckovic, who’d been acting at the time as a volunteer for First Defense Legal Aid, an organization that offers free emergency services for the indigent, testified that she was unaware her cellphone was considered contraband and that no signs forbade their use.
As in the Tiawanda Moore case above, trial jurors speedily rejected Alvarez’s extreme overreach and returned an acquittal.
• In 2011, former gang member Willie Johnson came forward to say that he’d lied in his eyewitness testimony at a 1994 double-murder trial, falsely implicating two rival gang members who were then sentence to life in prison without parole.
A judge didn’t believe Johnson’s recantation and declined to order a new trial. But almost no one could believe that Alvarez then turned around and prosecuted Johnson on perjury charges for, she said, offering a false recantation.
A raft of prominent attorneys, including former U.S. Attorneys Dan Webb and Jim Thompson and former Illinois Attorney General Tyrone Fahner, issued a statement blasting Alvarez for initiating a vindictive prosecution. Their letter said it would discourage honest recantations, “thereby depriving those who stand convicted of crimes they may not have committed of a fair opportunity to obtain post-conviction relief.”
Alvarez plunged ahead and secured a conviction. In January 2015, Gov. Pat Quinn commuted Johnson’s sentence after he’d served 4 months of a 21/2-year term.
• In 2013, Alvarez suspended and demoted one of her prosecutors, Sonia Antolec, after Antolec determined that the evidence in a high-profile subway “wilding” case was too flimsy to proceed against the young women who had been charged.
The video images were grainy and suggested police had arrested the wrong people. The victims were unable to properly identify the perpetrators. But Alvarez, rather than quietly congratulate Antolec for following the rules of justice, had a fit because Antolec had violated unwritten protocols.
• In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles amounted to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, and that judges must weigh the defendant’s age and nature of the crime before imposing such a sentence.
The ruling seemed tailored for Adolfo Davis, who was a troubled 14-year-old in 1990 when he accompanied two fellow gang members on a raid of a rival drug house that left two dead.
Davis, who’d been reared in squalor by drug addicts, said he’d just been the lookout. But it didn’t matter. He was tried as an adult, convicted and received a mandatory life sentence.
At his new sentencing hearing last year, Alvarez’s office argued vehemently and successfully that Davis, by then 38, didn’t deserve a break.
• At a news conference last year, Alvarez laid the blame for what she said was the wrongful prosecution of Alstory Simon for a 1982 double murder on journalism professor David Protess and his team of students and associates rather than on her predecessor as state’s attorney, Dick Devine, and on Cook County Judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald.
The case is exceedingly complicated, unusual and controversial, but suffice it to say that if Simon’s numerous public confessions to the crime were false, then the blame for accepting his guilty plea and wrongfully packing him off to prison belongs with the prosecutorial team and the judge, not the civilians who obtained only the first version of the confession.
Alvarez’s eagerness to throw Protess under the bus while giving a pass to the sworn officials responsible in the case was outrageous but not, to those of us who’ve been following her career, surprising.
And if that’s not enough, here is more from Eric Zorn, writing for the Chicago Tribune, March 10, 2016:
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has made too many bad decisions and dragged her feet too often to have earned a third term in office.
In advance of Tuesday’s primary election I started a list in last Sunday’s column of Alvarez’s greatest whiffs but ran out of room before I got to these:
• In 2010, Alvarez initially opposed an effort by recently paroled convict Terrill Swift to use a national DNA database to clear his name. Swift and three others had been convicted in a 1994 rape and murder in the Englewood neighborhood, but the source of the semen found in the victim had never been identified.
Alvarez relented after the Tribune began raising questions about the case, which was based solely on confessions the young men said they gave under duress. But when the database came back with a match to the late Johnny Douglas, a Chicagoan who’d been convicted of a very similar crime in 1997 and whom prosecutors said they suspected in at least five other sex attacks, Alvarez opposed Swift’s effort to have his conviction thrown out.
When a judge threw out the conviction anyway, Alvarez went on to oppose Swift’s petition for a certificate of innocence, saying she still put stock in the disputed confessions.
All four former defendants nevertheless received certificates of innocence.
• It wasn’t until after officials in Glenview issued a plea for action that Alvarez filed perjury charges against four police officers from Glenview and Chicago who allegedly testified falsely about the circumstances of a 2013 drug bust.
The officers’ testimony at a March 2014 hearing was so dramatically at odds with police dash-cam video of the arrest that Judge Catherine Haberkorn branded all the officers liars and dismissed the case.
Alvarez’s office quickly assumed control of the matter, but the investigation dragged on, well past September 2014, when Chicago and Glenview paid $195,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that had been filed by the arrested man.
On May 15, 2015, Glen-view’s village manager complained in a public letter that Alvarez’s delay had already cost the town at least an additional $250,000 because the officers were on paid suspension and the department had to operate short-handed. Twenty-four days later, more than 14 months after the dramatic court hearing, Alvarez finally filed charges.
Apropos of damning dash-cams, it’s now been nearly 17 months since a group of Chicago police officers filed reports that are in conflict with the video evidence in the notorious police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, yet all we hear from the Cook County state’s attorney’s office is crickets.
• Similarly, it took more than 20 months for Alvarez to file charges against Chicago police Officer Dante Servin in the shooting death of Rekia Boyd. Servin was off duty the night of March 21, 2012, when he got into an argument over noise with a group of young people gathered near his West Side home and fired his unregistered Glock at them. Boyd was struck in the head and died.
Boyd’s friend, Antonio Cross, who was unarmed when his shouting match with Servin escalated, was quickly charged with aggravated assault (a year later, on the day the Chicago City Council approved a $4.5 million settlement with Boyd’s survivors, those charges were dropped).
Alvarez dithered about what to do with Servin until Nov. 25, 2013, when she charged him with involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct. In a subsequent, astonishing turn of events (for which I don’t blame Alvarez) a judge acquitted Servin on the grounds that his conduct was voluntary and purposeful, therefore only a murder charge was appropriate.
• Alvarez fought against the right of defendants to call experts to cast doubt on the reliability of eyewitness testimony.
At a 2012 murder trial where the case against defendant Eduardo Lerma was based on two witness IDs of him as the shooter, Cook County prosecutors under Alvarez persuaded a judge not to allow jurors to hear from academics whose research questioned the general reliability of such accounts.
Lerma was convicted, but his appeal, based on the exclusion of expert testimony, ended up at the Illinois Supreme Court. Earlier this year, in an unanimous ruling ordering a new trial for Lerma, the court wrote:
“Expert testimony concerning the reliability of eyewitness testimony has moved from novel and uncertain to settled and widely accepted. … Advances in DNA testing have confirmed that eyewitness misidentification is now the single greatest source of wrongful convictions in the United States, and responsible for more wrongful convictions than all other causes combined. … Today we are able to recognize that such research is well settled, well supported, and in appropriate cases a perfectly proper subject for expert testimony.”
• Alvarez failed to recognize when it was time to defer to a special prosecutor in the David Koschman case.
Koschman died in 2004 after former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard “R.J.” Vanecko punched him during a drunken confrontation. Vanecko claimed self-defense and no charges were filed. But a 2011 investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times suggested that police and prosecutors might have cut Vanecko a break based on his connections.
Some of the conspiracy theories implicated the Cook County state’s attorney’s office under Alvarez’s predecessor, and a current employee of the office. So when Alvarez did not bring charges against the Daley relative, Koschman’s mother called for the appointment of a special prosecutor on the grounds that Alvarez had a conflict of interest.
Shortly after Judge Michael Toomin appointed a special prosecutor in April 2012 over Alvarez’s objections, she said, “I will not be bullied into any decision on any case that is not supported by the law and admissible evidence.”
In December 2012, special prosecutor Dan Webb brought an involuntary manslaughter charge against Vanecko. In January 2014, he pleaded guilty.
For eight years, Anita Alvarez has fumbled too many opportunities to get it right in an office that has little room for error.
It’s time to give someone else a chance.