Black lawyer named to investigate McDonald case

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2009
PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES speaks to reporters after she was named the special prosecutor who will investigate numerous Chicago officers who were with Jason Van Dyke when he shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in October, 2014.

Chicago Crusader staff report

Patricia Brown Holmes, a former Cook County judge and prominent attorney, has been named as the special prosecutor who will investigate numerous officers who were with Officer Jason Van Dyke when he shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014.

Presiding judge of the criminal division, Leroy Martin Jr., made the announcement during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Friday, July 29. Holmes will be one of two special prosecutors in the McDonald case. In June, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan, who is presiding over the case, announced that he will be selecting a special prosecutor to handle Van Dyke’s murder case after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez recused herself.

On Thursday Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph McMahon was named as the second prosecutor who will cross-examine Van Dyke and handle the case against him.

Before he announced that he had selected Brown Holmes, Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. said none of the governmental agencies he was required to contact wanted the job.

After taking a formal oath before Martin, Brown vowed to conduct a thorough investigation of the officers.

“This is a grave responsibility,” said Holmes outside the courthouse. “This is something that I think is very important to the public that they get it right and that they have confidence in whatever the results may be. I plan to look at the facts and go from there. I don’t have any preconceived notions about how it’s going to go or what I’m going to do.”

Holmes was among four candidates preferred by a coalition of 25 community groups, prominent attorneys and members of McDonald’s family. The other candidates were Sergio Acosta, a former federal prosecutor, David Coar, a retired federal judge and Ronald Safer, Holmes’ law partner and a former federal prosecutor.

“We’re certain that Judge Holmes is going to get to the bottom of this,” said Locke Bowman, an attorney for the coalition who expressed confidence her investigation would be “thorough and fair.”

Homes, 55, was born in San Diego, but raised on the Far South Side of Chicago. She has nearly thirty years of legal experience and served as a Cook County judge for eight years. She stepped down from the bench and became an attorney for Schiff Hardin, one of Chicago’s biggest law firms. She is a founding partner of Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila.

The firm’s lawyers will assist Holmes in her investigation and they will be paid for their work.

Holmes previously worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and was the court appointed trustee of Burr Oak Cemetery after a scandal forced the historic Black cemetery in Alsip to close.

Holmes has also served as a Cook County and federal prosecutor and worked as a chief assistant corporation counsel for the city.

Civil Rights Attorney G. Flint Taylor, who filed one of the petitions seeking the special prosecutor, said he was pleased that Martin had chosen an African American lawyer to investigate the case.

“Judge Holmes is going to get to the bottom of this. We’re confident that the investigation she will lead would be thorough, would be zealous and would be fair, and will bring to justice those involved in the cover up,” Bowman said.

Officer Van Dyke in November was charged with six counts of first-degree murder for shooting McDonald 16 times. Van Dyke and Chicago police say McDonald was coming towards them with a knife, but dash cam video showing the teenager walking away from the officers, contradicts their report. The incident occurred in the 4100 block of South Pulaski Road,

Van Dyke’s partner, Joseph Walsh and Detective David March, whose account conflicted with the shooting, were placed on “administrative status” in mid-December.

The video also showed that at least eight police officers came to the scene, but Van Dyke was the only one charged in McDonald’s death. The video also showed that none of the officers stopped Van Dyke as he continued to shoot McDonald as he laid on the ground dying from his wounds..

One day before the video was released, Van Dyke was charged with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of police misconduct. Before the McDonald incident, news reports said that at least 20 citizen complaints had been filed against Van Dyke since 2001, but none resulted in disciplinary action.

After the video was released on November 24, protests erupted in Chicago for nearly two months, with activists and Black leaders calling for the resignation of Cook County Attorney Anita Alvarez, then Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Alvarez was ousted in the primary election in March and McCarthy was fired December 1. Emanuel remains in office, but has lost his stature in the city and the Black community.

 

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