May 11, 2015

Cook County States Attorney Alvarez in Political Trouble

By Mark Wachtler

May 11, 2015. Chicago. (ONN) Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez rose through the ranks of the Daley wing of Chicago Democratic Machine to become the most powerful Hispanic female in Illinois. Now, the most powerful black female in Illinois, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, is set to dethrone the two-term Alvarez with her own Chief of Staff. If Alvarez runs for re-election in 2016, she will have lost nearly her entire political base.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Image courtesy of CBS 2 Chicago.

In February, the Chicago Sun Times broke the news that powerful and popular Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the only Chicago politician who polls higher than Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has had enough of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Preckwinkle has reportedly fielded her own Chief of Staff, Kimberly Foxx, to replace the County’s top prosecutor. In a radio interview this weekend, Preckwinkle refused to comment on the rumor.

Torture victims blame Alvarez

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is no stranger to corruption controversies or political enemies. She was a loyal employee of former Mayor Richard Daley when he was Cook County State’s Attorney himself. That dark period has been etched into Chicago history as the era in which Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his team of criminal cops tortured and terrorized the city’s black community, filling Illinois’ prisons with innocent men in the process.

Daley has always been accused of protecting the criminal offenders, both as State’s Attorney and also as Mayor. Daley’s inaction has already led to tens of millions of dollars in payments to victims compliments of Chicago taxpayers, with another $5.5 million set aside by the City Council just last week for CPD torture victims of the era.

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When elected Cook County State’s Attorney in 2008, Alvarez continued the tradition of protecting criminal police officers and elected officials. The most notorious case being the David Kochman murder-cover-up. Protecting former Mayor Daley’s nephew RJ Vanecko - a man who’s company has received millions of dollars in seemingly rigged city contracts - from prosecution for murder for seven years has become Anita Alvarez’s legacy. The Special Investigator’s report damned Alvarez and her entire office over the cover-up, accusing dozens of individuals with criminal behavior.

Sheriff Tom Dart blames Alvarez

Two years ago, the extremely popular Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took aim at Anita Alvarez. With County President Preckwinkle mandating across-the-board budget cuts to all departments, the Cook County jail was on the verge of catastrophe. Already well over legal maximum capacity, the County Prison housing almost 10,000 inmates had reached breaking point. And according to Sheriff Dart, it was mainly the fault of State’s Attorney Alvarez and her police state mentality.

In our 2013 report titled, ‘Cook County Jail at Crisis Point’, we at the Illinois Herald documented the full page ad in the city’s newspapers by the jail guards’ union. The spending cuts had put their guards in danger. Mental health spending cuts had also taken their toll, with Dart estimating that one in three inmates is not a criminal and only mentally ill with no other place to house them. The poor and homeless were also shown to be a large segment of the jail population.

Cook County jail doesn’t house convicted criminals and is only used as a temporary holding facility while accused individuals await their criminal trials. The system has become so broken over the years however, that many people are being jailed for as long as 11 years in Cook County jail waiting for their trials. The Cook County Sheriff, overseer of the jail, blamed Anita Alvarez for flooding his jail with bogus and unwarranted inmates, most especially those in possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Marijuana smokers blame Alvarez

As just one example, in was only last month that State’s Attorney Alvarez finally conceded defeat in her personal war on marijuana by announcing that her prosecutors would stop charging citizens possessing small amounts of marijuana with criminal offenses. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out, Alvarez is a few years late to that decision. Marijuana was decriminalized three years ago and Illinois is even one of the 24 states that legalized cannabis for medical use. For three years now, possession of marijuana was supposed to be a ticketed offense in Cook County, not a crime.

But as the above-referenced Tribune article points out, Alvarez and her prosecutors chose to criminally charge 14 marijuana smokers for every 1 smoker they chose to let slide with a ticket. The report also touches on the touchy subject of race in the race for Cook County State’s Attorney. In Illinois, blacks were 7-times more likely than whites to be charged with marijuana possession. In Chicago, some black neighborhoods have 150-times as many marijuana arrests as their white counterparts.

Black Chicagoans blame Alvarez

‘A study last year by the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University found that in 2013 there were 14 times more arrests in Chicago for misdemeanor marijuana possession than there were citations,’ the Tribune wrote, ‘And the arrests were concentrated in predominantly African American neighborhoods.’

Illustrating the racial undertones in the coming political battle, when Alvarez, Dart and Preckwinkle gathered to celebrate the successful reduction of Cook County Jail’s population four days ago to 8,000 inmates, ABC 7 Chicago reported that the remaining prisoners are 90 percent black and Hispanic. “Like many State’s Attorneys around the country, Alvarez is under fire for prosecuting too many people of color for non-violent offenses and going easy on police officers charged with abuse,” the network told viewers.

In a one-two-three punch, the anti-Alvarez politicians gathered at the celebration took turns slamming the State’s Attorney. Sheriff Dart accused Alvarez of filling his jail with non-violent non-criminals, “The fact of the matter is that on any given day, over a third of my population is seriously mentally ill.” County President Preckwinkle piled on, indirectly accusing Alvarez of disproportionately targeting black citizens, “When we’re talking about criminal justice in this country, we have to understand that we’re talking about race and class.” Alvarez’s coming opponent, Kimberly Foxx added, “There’s a concern for many that our criminal justice system is not fair, that it’s about crime and punishment and not about fairness and justice.”

As an example of State’s Attorney Alvarez’s alleged protection of homicidal police officers, critics point to the case only two weeks ago where a judge threw out Alvarez’s charges against a Chicago Police officer accused of reckless homicide for firing into a crowd of residents from his personal vehicle, killing an unarmed innocent woman. The off duty officer claimed they were making too much noise. The judge embarrassed the State’s Attorney and enraged the people of Chicago by throwing out the charges saying Alvarez’s office had mischarged the officer and instead should have charged him with first degree murder.

Civil rights activists blame Alvarez

As detailed by the Illinois Observer, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez was sued by civil rights activists last month for refusing to comply with Illinois’ Freedom Of Information Act. The citizens have been requesting details about the use of NSA-style spy equipment by the Chicago Police and the State’s Attorney’s office on the unsuspecting people of Chicago and Cook County.

Part of the lawsuit claims Alvarez, ‘has willfully and intentionally violated FOIA by refusing to produce records related to the presentation of evidence obtained through use of cell site simulators on the basis that it would be too burdensome and is insufficiently important to justify the work involved to produce the records.’

At the heart of the controversy is the use of fake cell phone towers and spy gadgets like the ‘Stingray’. The publication quotes attorney Matt Topic explaining, “Stingray programs around the country have rightfully come under fire from civil liberties advocates from across the political spectrum. The public can’t perform its duty of monitoring government or protect itself from Constitutional violations when law enforcement continues to hide virtually all details about this technology and when it’s being used.”

With Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s 2016 re-election just around the corner, the incumbent is showing no signs of concern that her political base seems to be organizing against her. When asked by ABC 7 Chicago about the rumored challenge by Preckwinkle’s Chief of Staff, Alvarez told the network, “Unless she’s running Hillary Clinton against me, I think I’m going to be okay.”


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