Anita Alvarez: Her Side of the Story

Anita Alvarez and Sylvia Perez

After 8 years, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez will be leaving office in December. Alvarez was voted out in the March primary when her Democratic opponent Kim Foxx easily won the nomination. Ask almost anyone and they will tell you it was the Laquan McDonald case that was her undoing.

The Laquan McDonald case

Anita Alvarez

Alvarez says she saw the video shortly after McDonald’s death and joined with the feds to investigate.

McDonald was the 17-year old black teenager brutally shot 16 times and killed by a white Chicago police officer in October of 2014. But it was the police dashboard video released more than a year later that caused national outrage. Alvarez did not bring charges against officer Jason Van Dyke until hours before a judge ordered the city to release the video. That had protesters on the streets demanding her resignation and calling for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and then Chicago police superintendent Gary McCarthy to resign. Superintendent McCarthy was eventually fired by Emanuel, and a federal investigation was launched.

Chicago voters point finger at Anita Alvarez

The political loss was a tough one for Alvarez and a surprise. Most people expected she would win a third term. Even election polls were showing she was ahead. For the first time since she lost that election, Anita Alvarez sat down to speak with me regarding the case for my web interview series, Heavy Hitters. Originally, when I reached out to her to do the interview I wasn’t sure if she would say yes. After all, the media has been relentless in its coverage of the McDonald case, and most of the time the news has not been favorable to her.

When we finally met it was hours before she was about to speak at an event for the LGBT community at the Center on Halsted in Chicago. I could tell she was a little nervous, which is a side of her not often seen. She’s known to be a tough prosecutor. I think she was looking forward to finally telling her side of the story.

 

Alvarez says she unfairly took the blame

“I think I was made a fall guy in many ways. You know, I don’t think it was justified,” said Alvarez. She says the Mayor’s office and some alderman had seen that video before it was released and then started trying to put the blame on her and the police superintendent once it was made public.

Unfortunately for her, that video was all that anyone could talk about during the primary, despite efforts by the Alvarez campaign to try to bring up other issues. She says she wanted to focus on gun violence and the progress she’s made in the State’s Attorney’s office since she took over, but the primary election became a one-issue campaign.

What did she think when she saw the video?

I asked her what she initially thought when she first watched the video of the shooting.

“Looking at that tape, I’m human and a mother, like anybody, I had the same reaction. You know, this is a 17-year-old,” Alvarez replied. “From day one, you know, my goal was to seek justice for this young man. But here’s the thing, when you are investigating these police cases it’s difficult because when you go to trial on these, it’s hard to convict police. We wanted to make sure we had the most, the strongest case possible,” Alvarez said.

Anita Alvarez and Sylvia Perez

Alvarez told me that her one regret was not reassuring the public sooner that McDonald’s death was being taken seriously.

She says she met with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, and they all agreed they would do the investigation and announce any charges together, with the FBI being the lead investigative agency. She also told me that the average amount of time to file charges in a police officer shooting case nationally is 400 days. Alvarez says she was planning on filing charges but was waiting for the FBI to make its decision. Once the video was released, she admits it forced her to file the charges earlier than she had planned and noted the FBI still hasn’t announced any federal charges.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had “no impact on investigation” but left her hanging

Before the video was released, Mayor Emanuel was in the fight of his political life. He unexpectedly faced a run-off after the March, 2014 primary. Critics were convinced the Mayor was working with Alvarez’s office to hold off on releasing the video for fear it could be politically damaging. Alvarez vehemently denies those allegations and says she had no control over when the video was released. She clearly resents, however, what happened after that. A firestorm of criticism was directed at her – and it was a lonely place to be without the Mayor’s support.

Anita Alvarez family

Alvarez says her family has had a tough time with the vicious criticism and calls for her resignation.

Alvarez family suffers under scrutiny

The most personal part of my interview with her was when she spoke about how all the protests and calls for her to resign affected her family. She shared a video with us that brings this home. Alvarez is the married mother of four. In this video, her teen-aged daughter describes how horrible it is to hear people speak so badly of her mother and to call for her to step down. Her daughter won a poetry slam contest at school and performed her speech in front of the entire high school student body. In this, she expresses her raw emotion. Her twin sister caught the speech on her cell phone. It’s powerful to watch.

What would she do differently?

I asked her if she would do anything differently in handling this case. She says she now realizes the public needed to be reassured from the beginning that this case was being looked at, not being ignored. But she adds that prosecutors were bound by ethical rules not to give out any specific details.

Finally, the end of our interview was the most emotional for Alvarez. I asked her what she wanted people to remember about her tenure in office. In her response, she unexpectedly started tearing up. It even surprised her. Her reply, “I want everybody to remember me as someone who lived and cared about every one of her victims, no matter what the case was, this was something that was my number one concern,” she said.

The future for Alvarez

What’s next for Anita Alvarez? She told me she’s not sure. “I still have a job to do, you know, until December, so I’m going to do my job, and continue to go to work and do the right thing, but I’ll survive, you know, I’m tough.  I’ll survive.”

I asked Alvarez whom she would vote for in the November general election. She didn’t mention her opponent by name, but said she is a Democrat and will stick with her party. When I asked her what advice she has for the next person who takes over the office of Cook County state’s attorney, her reply was, “Good luck. It’s not an easy job.”

About Heavy Hitters

Heavy Hitters with Sylvia PerezThere are so many interesting people out there that we see in the public eye but we often only see one side of them. This is the chance to learn more about the other side and to allow these people to tell their story in their own way. It’s a personal, inside look into what makes them who they are.  Anita Alvarez is the first interview of my new web series, Heavy Hitters. We plan to bring you a new story each month. If you have a suggestion for a “Heavy Hitter” you would like to know more about, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or email me at sylvia@sylviaperez.com.

Sylvia Perez

About Sylvia Perez

Sylvia Perez is an Emmy Award winning broadcast journalist, news and health reporter, and major market anchor. Her expertise in revealing the personal side of headline stories and drawing their impact into “news you can use” viewership is now the foundation of Sylvia Perez Productions, a multi-faceted company specializing in video production and event planning for non-profits.

31 Comments

  • Eric Garner says:

    Fascinating internal look at in the mind of a tough woman. Regardless of political affiliation, it is wonderful to see professionalism in the face of public scrutiny. Sure makes you think twice about the steps others are walking at this current time. It is a shame that great people like Mrs. Alvarez are marginalized for the sake of a quick headline. Tremendous interview

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Thank you Eric. She was very forthcoming and I was happy to see that.

      • Elvira Acevedo says:

        Dear Ms. Perez,

        Thank for having interviewed my cousin. She is a very strong woman and I know that she will prevail in whatever life has in store for her. I along with all her family here in San Jose, California and other cities in California are proud of her.

        Elvira Acevedo
        “Si Se Puede.”

        • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

          Elvira, so nice of you to comment. I hope you were able to watch the entire interview. Best of luck. Sylvia

        • DEBBY MORGE says:

          i some times think she lost because you can’t split the ticket,trump won il. by alot.so i wonder if you polled the people what they would say.i myself would have voted for her if i could have split the ticket

  • John Wrobel says:

    Anita and The Police Superintendent McCarthy were both thrown under the bus by the mayor! That was all about saving his own ass!!!

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Thanks for your comments John. Glad you were interested enough to make the effort to come to this site and leave your opinion. I love a good discussion and you are helping to contribute to that. Best, Sylvia

      • Gary O'Reilly says:

        Just look how rushing to prosecute policemen work in Baltimore Anita did a fantastic job the people of Cook County will be very sorry to have an unexperienced State’s Attorney because she’s only tried 2 cases hopefully I need it will run again in 4 years she was the best. Thanks

    • DEBBY MORGE says:

      and murder went up, since he left ,so who they gonna blame now other than the criminals doing it

    • Lynell says:

      The voice of ratilnaoity! Good to hear from you.

  • Tyrone Powell says:

    I can only imagine what it would take to go against the Police department , but unfortunately it is the big cities and politicians are out for themselves, and looking at the landscape of the politics and the personal relationship with the police and the attorney’s office it has been for many years a conflict of interest and it makes it hard for them to do there job , so this is an example of what can happen when the obvious is seen and you are waiting on political officials to back you up, politicians are always looking for results and if that means to bring a calm to the citizen’s instead of just letting the police detectives do there job , we would not have innocent people in prison and corrupt or unbalanced Officers on the force, Anita Alvarez was not the only States Attorney and may not be the last to follow politics and personal relationships with police officers , We have had unprofessional police officers on the forces for the exzistince of the Police department and we accept it and let them do it and when they are challenged they break laws and use bogus arrest and once we let these officers do that , they start crossing next line they cross and the next until the can kill and nothing is done about it , Until Video evidence is shown and still they are able to get off, what does that say about us when we can let some police officers become Judge & jury and then because of the relationship that the Attorney’s have with the police it is easy to slip under the rug or in most cases are dismissed. But I do have an ideal where it can make the job of the attorney easier….. Make every Police Officers have Liability Insurance and before being hired a physic evaluation , especially applicant coming from the military after serving In combat , if applicants and current officers are not able to get liability insurance they can’t become officers , i bet that would cut the murder rate and corrupt cops in half and making sure that there is transparency Officers conduct records are public record just like any other city or state employee IMO.

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Hi Tyrone,
      I can tell you have really thought this one through. You bring up some interesting points. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave these comments. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience for everyone involved. Best, Sylvia

  • Ronald Wadley says:

    While I know the wheels of politics are slippery in this city at the end of the day Mrs. Alvarez served at the pleasure of the Cook County voters. The fact that it takes an average of 400 days to bring charges against a police officer doesn’t hold water for me and most other voters. The arrest and video released seemed a bit to coincidental. By using the excuses noted in the interview only cements the reason to vote against her in the recent primary. At the end of the day the facts the voters saw were of her protecting a murderer in a blue uniform. We needed and deserved a Cook County States Attorney that would go to the mat for us for you can’t serve two masters. Let’s not be so quick to think that the mayor has gotten off easily where this case is concerned. His day is coming if he has the resolve to try to run for office again. In this case no one was on the side of the voters and they all should be removed from office. So with all the accolades of Mrs. Alvarez being strong where was that strength and toughness in this situation and why was it not exerted?

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Ronald, I really appreciate your insight. There are still a lot of questions and who knows if we will ever get all the answers. But, I think it’s good to hear from “the other side” and then make our own educated decisions as you have done. Thank you again for commenting it means a lot. Best, Sylvia

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Ronald, I appreciate you watching the story and giving me your opinion. That is my goal with these pieces is to really show the other side and let people make decisions on how they feel. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Best, Sylvia

  • Tyrone Powell says:

    Thank you Sylvia i enjoy the forum you have here.
    Best of luck and keep up the good work.

  • Jay says:

    Excellent interview with Miss Anita Alvarez, Sylvia. The length of time that it took for her to bring charges to the officer was a bit too long. My dad used to make a comment to me and he would say, “No one knows that s*** stinks, until you put it under their nose.” This is to say that no one knows how one feels, until it actually happens to them. With that said, we don’t know the full reason for the length of time that it took for charges to be brought up against the shooting officer. But, if this had happened to her child and someone else was the State’s Attorney, how would she feel? There are a lot of things going on in city government, the ranks of Police, Fire, CTA Aldermen, you name it corruption is out there. Keep up the good work and the great interviews Sylvia. I think I’m going to enjoy the Heavy Hitters segments.

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Wow! Thank you so much Jay for leaving these comments. I’m very excited about doing these and glad to hear people are interested. All the best, Sylvia

  • Bart Shore says:

    Great job! And in the news today! How about an interview with Andy Shaw, BGA?

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Haha!Thank you Bart and how nice of you to reach out. I so appreciate the support. Working on getting my next big “get.” You know everyone. If you have any suggestions let me know. Hope all is well with you.
      Best,

      Sylvia

  • Sylvia says:

    Thank you Sylvia for the long over-do interview with Anita Alvarez. Both my husband and I worked for the States a Attorney’s Office, my husband worked 36 years there and I worked 15 years. We are both retired now, but it did not make it any less painful to see her lose in the election.
    My husband especially had seen many states attorneys come and go and it is not an easy job by any stretch. If there is a certain high profile case it could either make you or break you. It’s a shame that one case alone destroyed her chance of being re-elected. Too bad they couldn’t look at all the good she did in her eight year run. We do however wish the new states attorney the best.

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Thank you Sylvia. I love that so many people who have first hand knowledge and worked with her are speaking up. I appreciate your input and this post.
      Sincerely, Sylvia

  • Sandy Lewis says:

    What a moving interview. I am personally elated that she got to tell her side of the story. It is very easy for average people to see things from the outside in rather than the inside out. Having worked in the office for over 13 years, I can honestly say that she is the REAL DEAL. Since taking office, she has not only shown her capabilities of a great leader she has proven that victims have a voice within her office. It is unfortunate that we are losing a great LEADER, but I’m a firm believer that God has greater things in her path to conquer and I personally know that she will meet every challenge head on with the same compassion, integrity and faith that she has made the right decision when it comes to her office. I will miss her greatly.

    • Sylvia Perez Sylvia Perez says:

      Hi Sandy. So great to hear from someone with first hand experience. I’m sure working in that office for 13-years gives you insight no one else has seen. I really appreciate your thoughtful post. Best, Sylvia

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