Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Timing of Jason Van Dyke Arrest is Prime Example of Government Corruption

Over a year ago, Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald.  The shooting was captured on police video. 

In spite of the media’s lawful request for access to that video, Chicago police and prosecutors kept the video of the October 2014 incident out of public view, claiming that releasing it to the public would jeopardize their investigation. 

Among other media entities, the Wall Street Journal filed a public-records request to have the video made public.  The Chicago police denied all such requests.  Thus, as is often the case when police attempt to unlawfully withhold information from the public, those seeking rightful access to the videos had to resort to the use of the already-overburdened courts.

After Chicago police expended a lot of tax dollars in a futile effort to unlawfully keep the video from the media and the public, Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama ruled that the video showing the death of Laquan McDonald, 17 years old, must be made public by Nov. 25, 2015.  That ruling came just after the Illinois attorney general’s office said in a “nonbinding opinion” on Nov. 6 that police had improperly denied the Journal’s request for the footage, finding that police had not demonstrated that a release would interfere with continuing investigations or affect a trial.

In a remarkable coincidence that can’t be reasonably explained as anything less than a classic abuse of discretion, yesterday, the same day that the video was released, Van Dyke was fired from his job, arrested and charged with first degree murder. 

According to CNN:

Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez said the video's release moved up the timing of her announcement, but didn't dictate her decision to charge the officer with first-degree murder.  She defended the length of the investigation, saying the case was complicated.

Really?  So on the same day as the video was finally released--i.e., after more than one year of reviewing it--prosecutors also just happened to finally have enough evidence to support a charge of first degree murder, and Chicago police just happened to finally have a sufficient basis to terminate Van Dyke’s employment?

Needless to say, I don't buy it.  There were several abuses of discretion at work here.  The first was the decision to fight the release of the video; the second was the decision not to terminate Van Dyke immediately after viewing the video (like other departments have done to build trust with the public); and third, prosecutorial discretion was abused in this case because the charges only came due to the fact that the video was going to be released.  The prosecutor knew that the video would clearly show the public that criminal charges were warranted.  She knew she couldn't delay justice any longer and keep a straight face.  But the one-year delay was far too long.

Notwithstanding the amazing timing of the video’s release with the arrest and termination of Van Dyke (the coincidental elephant in the room), Mayor Rahm Emanuel only mentioned one reason why we should be concerned: "I understand that the people will be upset and will want to protest when they see this video." 

Yes, Mr. Mayor, the video is certainly part of why people will be upset.  But there are other reasons why, including: 1) your police tried to keep that video out of public view, and that effort was unlawful, and they wasted tax dollars putting up the protracted fight, 2) we think your police could have fired Van Dyke much earlier than yesterday, 3) we think prosecutors had sufficient probable cause to arrest Van Dyke for first degree murder last year and that they had just as much reason last year (especially from the video) to believe that a conviction was possible as they do now, and 4) Chicago law enforcement agencies treated Van Dyke more favorably than they generally treat others who face similar criminal charges.  But yes, we're also quite upset by what the video shows, particularly because it's been happening in this country routinely and has become just as predictable, if not more so, as the mass shootings.

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