Updated 05/05/16 – 10:46 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a surprise reversal Thursday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez asked to recuse herself and her office from the murder case against the Chicago police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Weekend Warmup
Alvarez also asked for a special prosecutor in the murder case against Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. She had previously defended her handling of the McDonald case, and criticized calls for a special prosecutor. She defended the amount of time it took to file charges, saying she was working alongside the FBI and federal prosecutors to thoroughly investigate the shooting and build a “meticulous case” against Van Dyke.
In a statement after Thursday’s hearing in the case, Alvarez said she decided remove herself and her office from the case to avoid any unnecessary delays in the case, and to ensure one specific prosecutor handles the case all the way to trial. Alvarez lost her bid for re-election in the Democratic primary in March. Her eventual successor won’t be elected until November, and won’t be sworn in until December.
“My primary goal in bringing a charge of First Degree Murder in this case is and always has been about seeking justice for Laquan McDonald. Today I believe that I am fulfilling this obligation by requesting that the court turn this case over to a special prosecutor,” she said. “I believe that the results of the recent election and the impending transition of this office make this the best and most responsible decision.”
Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan said he would not rule on requests for a special prosecutor until June 2.
Two petitions have been filed seeking to replace Alvarez in the case, citing her close ties to the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents Chicago police officers. One petition was filed by a group of civil rights attorneys and activists, the other was filed by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Critics have said Alvarez is beholden to the police union, and has failed to adequately prosecute cases of police misconduct and corruption.
Alvarez stressed she does not believe there is any conflict of interest that would prevent her office from handling the case.