Over the weekend, hip-hot artist Jasiri X posted this image on his twitter feed. It’s taken from the front page of the New York Daily News’ website. Note the screaming headline and the sympathetic caption: “Accused killer Dylann Roof had one chance at a stable family life — and his abusive dad ruined it for…
“The duty of a public prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.”
So says Rule 3.8 of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct. But that message may have been lost on the folks running the country’s second largest prosecutor’s office. Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times ran a story about Sonia Antolec, a 30-year old Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County, Illinois, who was demoted and suspended for three days without pay for refusing to prosecute a case against eight African American girls who allegedly accosted a woman on an el train in Chicago:
Sonia Antolec, 30, told the Chicago Sun-Times that … police paperwork indicated that a woman who had been mugged while riding a CTA Red Line train with her mother near Lake Street had been able to identify the girls who attacked her shortly after the incident. Antolec approved charges against the girls, all minors.
But the case fell apart when Antolec interviewed the victims, who told her something surprising that was not indicated in police reports about how the muggers were identified.
Police had lined the girls up against a wall with their backs facing the victims. “The victims were asked to identify them from behind,” Antolec recalled.
The daughter, who told Antolec she felt pressured by police to make an identification, said a pink hoodie one of the girls had on seemed to match one worn by a mugger, Antolec said.
Video-surveillance recordings were no help either, she said. “None of the eight girls were identified in any legitimate manner,” said Antolec, who dropped the charges against all eight girls on July 10, the date their trial was set to begin.
Following the State’s Attorney’s disciplinary action against her, Antolec quit the office, but she’s sticking to her guns.
While the Chicago Police Department has denied Antolec’s version of the identification procedures used in the case and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office maintains that Antolec failed to follow proper protocol, Antolec stands by her story and claims she told her supervisor ahead of time that she planned to drop the charges. Moreover, Antolec claims that at the time she was disciplined, her division chief told her the State’s Attorney’s Office was getting “bad press” as a result of that decision.
Here’s the kicker: According to veteran Chicago reporter Carol Marin, “[m]ultiple sources confirm that her supervisor agreed” with Antolec’s decision to drop the case. “But,” as Marin explained, “this had become a heater case,” so they had to scapegoat somebody:
[Cook County State’s Attorney Anita] Alvarez’s office does not dispute problems with the evidence. What the office does dispute is whether Antolec observed proper protocol in getting the upper echelons of the office to agree to dismiss.
“Whether these cases are bad or not is beside the point,” Alvarez chief of staff Dan Kirk told me Friday. “You have to go through procedures.”
Sure. It’s all about following the rules, not about punishing an ethical attorney for making the difficult decision to drop charges in a case where the public is demanding blood.
I would like to believe that, but this isn’t the first time the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has wandered perilously close to the ethical line. In 2009, Alvarez’s office issued subpoenas to Northwestern University’s Innocence Project, which was then run by journalism professor David Protess, seeking to obtain notes taken by Protess’ students in their efforts to have Anthony McKinney’s murder conviction overturned. Alvarez claimed that she was simply trying to uncover manipulation of evidence on the students’ part; but it caused a firestorm of controversy because the Innocence Project already had an impressive track record of overturning wrongful convictions. Portess and his students were involved in freeing eleven individuals, five of whom had been on death row, so Alvarez’s aggressive actions in the McKinney case looked like retribution or intimidation.
In the mean time, Northwestern and Protess have parted ways, and McKinney’s attorneys moved forward without the evidence Protess’ students gathered on his behalf, so I suppose Alvarez must feel she’s been vindicated. But the latest dust-up involving Antolec, her now former employee, renews the nagging question: does the Cook County State’s Attorney believe in justice, or just getting convictions?