Members of a SWAT team walk along West Division Street near the 1200 block of North Mason Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, where a person was fatally shot and two were injured Friday morning. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Aldermen are furious. And well they should be. One person was killed. Two were wounded. More than 70 shell casings were found.
Many aldermen are furious with the police and prosecutors over the handling of a brazen gunfight in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood on Friday in which the suspects walked away without a single criminal charge being filed.
We entirely understand. In a city where authorities should be doing everything to quell a surge in violence, there’s a shoot-out like at the OK Corral, an entire block is endangered and several obvious suspects are detained.
And then nothing.
This was a shocking incident, even in a city that seems increasingly inured to the daily violence, caught on video and described by one source as “just like the Wild West.” More than 70 shell casings were found, and many more shots in all likelihood were fired. Police apparently arrived in time to witness at least part of the shootout.
Who can blame anybody for asking: “If charges can’t be filed in a case like this, when can they?”
Who can blame anybody for thinking that the handling of this case will embolden thugs to shoot and kill with even greater abandon?
Reporter Tom Schuba wrote in Monday’s Sun-Times that the firefight, which left one shooter dead and two suspects wounded, grew out of an internal dispute between two factions of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, according to an internal police report and a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.
At least three individuals reportedly jumped out of two cars and began to shoot into a brick house. Those inside the house fired back. When the shooting stopped, those in the house refused to come out until a SWAT team arrived.
Schuba’s source said police sought to charge all five suspects with murder and aggravated battery. But instead, after discussion with prosecutors, the suspects were released without charges. On Monday, police said an investigation is continuing.
This page has long argued that criminal charges should be brought by police and prosecutors only when there is sufficient evidence to support a case. Too often in the past, cases have been built using torture, false confessions and the strangest stretching of the evidence. But the pendulum can’t be allowed to swing so far in the opposite direction that obvious suspects walk away from crime scenes with impunity.
On Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and five West Side aldermen sent a letter to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx asking her to reconsider the decision not to bring felony charges. “Giving these kinds of violent offenders a pass when their crime is fully captured on video and with police on the scene is simply unacceptable,” they wrote.
Amen to that.
The police and state’s attorney office must work together on this one to achieve justice. Friday’s shooting is sure to spread terror into the heart of every Austin resident, and throughout a city traumatized by gun violence. For the suspects to be at large — not even on electronic monitoring — can make no one feel safe.
At Monday’s City Council budget hearing, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), chairman of the Public Safety Committee, promptly asked Chicago Police Supt. David Brown, who recently on CNN decried “violent people in possession of weapons,” about the case. Brown said the police department is committed to holding any guilty parties accountable.
Taliaferro, who signed the letter with Lightfoot and the four other aldermen, told us, “When I first heard people were taken into custody and that no one was charged, I was floored, frustrated and furious all at the same time. I could understand why our community is very concerned about the violence that is prevalent in Chicago and why there is such an appearance that nothing significant is being done about it.”
A police attorney’s report reportedly stated Foxx’s office cited “mutual combatants” as a reason not to press charges. “Mutual combatants” is a phrase cops use to describe, for example, two people who agree to go outside a bar and fight. Police infamously used the concept as an excuse not to investigate the case of David Koschman, the young man who died in 2004 after being punched by a nephew of a former mayor.
But on Monday, lawyers with both defense and prosecutorial backgrounds told us the idea of “mutual combatants” simply does not apply here. Not when there’s a lethal firefight in broad daylight.
Kim Foxx had better review every aspect of this case: How the arrests were made, how the evidence was assessed and the curious legal rationale and policies that led to not one charge being filed against anybody.
In this case and every case like it.
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