Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to reporters during a news conference at Hope Manor II in Englewood on the South Side, Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Lightfoot told reporters Tuesday that she had referred the case to U.S. Attorney John Lausch, the latest escalation in a simmering conflict between the mayor and the county’s top prosecutor.
Facing heavy criticism after her office rejected charges against five suspects in a deadly shootout in Austin, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Tuesday slammed Mayor Lori Lightfoot for raising alarms about the case and said the mayor had her facts wrong.
But a short time later, Lightfoot brushed off Foxx’s claims and announced that she’d effectively circumvented her by asking U.S. Attorney John Lausch to review the evidence in the gang-related gunfight Friday morning in Austin that left one shooter dead and two suspects wounded.
“I’ve also reached out to the U.S. attorney to ask him to also evaluate the evidence that was there to see if there’s a possibility for federal charges,” Lightfoot told reporters.
The dueling press conferences reveal the stark division between Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor herself, and the county’s top law enforcement official over what evidence is needed to prosecute the suspects Chicago police had hoped Foxx would charge with first-degree murder and aggravated battery.
“Whatever evidence that needs to be gathered, the police department is going to be Johnny on the spot and make sure we get it,” Lightfoot after she appeared in Pilsen with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge at an unrelated event. “But this is, to me, a very compelling case.”
People sit on the 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, Oct. 1, 2021.
On Tuesday morning, Foxx had told reporters that it was “wrong” for Lightfoot to publicly discuss details of the high-profile case, alleging that some of the mayor’s previous statements about the evidence “simply weren’t true.”
“I was quite honestly mortified by what happened yesterday, particularly because the mayor as a former prosecutor knows that what she did yesterday was inappropriate,” Foxx said during her news conference in Englewood.
The rebuke came after Lightfoot and five West Side City Council members voiced concerns Monday about the blanket rejection in the case and urged Foxx to at least reconsider charging two of the alleged instigators.
Though Foxx wouldn’t say what she believes Lightfoot got wrong, she noted that Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan conceded during a budget hearing Monday that the evidence was insufficient to bring the charges against the five members of warring factions of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang.
Deenihan also acknowledged that police video footage doesn’t clearly show some of the shooters, and that none of those arrested were willing to cooperate with investigators. Asked about those comments Tuesday, Lightfoot said she planned to speak to Deenihan directly and insisted that his boss, Supt. David Brown, “does not agree with a no charging decision.”
The state’s attorney’s office previously told the Sun-Times that the “evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to approve felony charges,” but Lightfoot contested that claim as she appeared to reference police POD camera footage that captured the shooting.
The footage, which has circulated online, appears to show two people firing shots next to two waiting Dodge Chargers. When a police cruiser pulls up, one of the shooters jumps into one of the waiting cars, while the other is left lying in the street.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot responds to questions regarding Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx at Concordia Place Apartments in Eden Green, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.
Lightfoot noted that two suspects were ultimately found with guns “used in that firefight,” a claim backed up with a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation. She said investigators have also collected body-worn camera and dashcam video from officers in Chicago and Oak Park, where the source said one of the suspects was apprehended after crashing one of the Chargers.
Deenihan said he thought prosecutors could pursue lesser charges against at least some of the suspects, though Foxx noted that cops haven’t sought any other charges. While she has refused to discuss the evidence related to the ongoing investigation, Foxx said her office needs a victim, a witness or someone else to tie a suspect to a crime, even if it’s caught on video.
“In order for us to bring charges in a case, it’s not simply, we saw a video of something happening,” Foxx said. “We need to be able to say that the person who we have arrested and charged is the same person who engaged in the act.”
Lightfoot conceded “there are circumstances when we absolutely need to have a witness to identify who did something,” but she noted this shootout was captured on “multiple videotapes” as she questioned why no charges — even disturbing the peace — were filed in connection to the shootout.
“We cannot send a message that it is OK and you get a pass that you shoot up a residence in broad daylight, captured on film, and no consequences will happen to you,” she said. “That can’t be a world that we live in.”
Whether the feds will get involved is unclear. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday.
Foxx: ‘This isn’t me pointing fingers’
Amid the dispute, Foxx made a public request to meet with Lightfoot, Brown and Area 5 police leaders to address her concerns about recent investigations and information that has been leaked to the media.
Lightfoot later confirmed that she and Foxx would meet. Police spokesmen didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Police officials in Area 5, which investigates crimes in parts of the West, North and Northwest sides, had already been at odds with the state’s attorney’s office over other high-profile cases prosecutors refused to take up, including the fatal shootings of National Guard member Chrys Carjaval in July and 7-year-old Serenity Broughton in August. Foxx apparently referenced those cases when she insisted it wasn’t part of her job to “try cases in the media, nor to play politics on the deaths of children and veterans and people in our community.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks to reporters during a news conference at Hope Manor II in Englewood on the South Side, Tuesday morning, Oct. 5, 2021.
“We would expect that our partners, especially those who served as prosecutors, would recognize that,” said Foxx, taking a not-so-veiled shot at Lightfoot. “And more importantly, if engaging in that, [they] would tell the truth. Tell the truth.”
Facing renewed criticism that she’s week on crime, Foxx also apparently sought to deflect some of the blame back onto the police department amid the city’s continued surge in violence. Of the 13,374 citywide shootings that have occurred since she took office in 2016, Foxx told reporters, police have made arrests in just 2,447 of them.
“This isn’t me pointing fingers. … This isn’t me playing the victim,” she insisted. “This is us in the state’s attorney’s office wanting to work with our law enforcement partners because when we know we have that many unsolved shootings there is a sense that people can get away with murder with impunity, and that makes our communities less safe.”
Contributing: Cheyanne Daniels