Police and a SWAT team respond to a shooting in 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. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
But Foxx accused the mayor of getting her facts wrong regarding prosecutors’ decision not to charge five suspects in a deadly Austin shootout last week, and said there was not enough evidence.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a group of City Council members urged Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx Monday to reconsider prosecuting five suspects in a deadly gang-related shootout last week in Austin after they were released when prosecutors rejected charges against them.
Chicago police sought to charge all five suspects with murder and aggravated battery after they allegedly engaged in a Friday morning gunfight between two factions of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, the Chicago Sun-Times first reported.
The state’s attorney’s office, however, declined to charge any of them, calling the evidence insufficient. A police report further noted that prosecutors told investigators charges were rejected because the shootout involved “mutual combatants.”
During an unrelated news conference at Prosser Career Academy in Hanson Park Monday, Lightfoot said that she and a group of West Side aldermen sent a letter to Foxx imploring her to reconsider filing charges in the case.
“It’s complicated, for sure, but we really urge the state’s attorney herself to get personally involved, look at the evidence,” Lightfoot said. “And I believe that there are charges that can be brought at a minimum against the individuals who initiated the gunfire. We can’t live in a world where there’s no accountability.”
Around 10:30 a.m. Friday, members of the Body Snatchers faction of the Four Corner Hustlers drove to the 1200 block of North Mason Avenue in two Dodge Chargers and began shooting into a home using handguns that were modified into automatic weapons, according to an internal police report and a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation. Members of the rival Jack Boys faction then fired back from inside the home.
More than 70 shell casings were found outside the home, according to the source, who noted that total likely doesn’t include the number of shots that were fired from inside. Three men were struck, including a member of the Body Snatchers who died. The gun battle, which was caught on police POD camera, only came to a halt when a police cruiser pulled up.
One of the Chargers was later found torched, while the other was recovered after the driver crashed during a chase with Oak Park police, the source and the report noted. The driver was taken into custody, along with a wounded man he dropped off at a hospital in the western suburb.
The Jack Boys, meanwhile, refused to leave the home on Mason, causing a standoff that required a SWAT team to respond, according to the source and the report. Three suspects were ultimately arrested, including a man who was wounded, though Lightfoot and the alderpersons acknowledged police did not recover any guns inside the home.
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, warned that a lack of consequences could send a dangerous message as the city grapples with a continued surge in violent crime.
“If they do not feel like the criminal justice system is going to hold them accountable, we’re going to see a level of brazenness that will send this city into chaos,” she said of those stoking the violence. “And we cannot let that happen.”
City Hall has clashed with Foxx over prosecutions in the past. And the Area 5 detectives investigating the shootout have 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: Lightfoot has her facts wrong
While Foxx declined to comment on the specifics of the latest case during an interview Monday evening, she said the detectives who worked with her office after the shootout “acknowledged the chaotic nature of the scene and the challenges that it posed” and agreed there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges.
“The mayor, as a former prosecutor, knows of the ethical obligations of the prosecutor, which is to only bring forth charges where the evidence and the law support it,” Foxx said.
In a statement, she took another dig at Lightfoot, saying the facts presented by the mayor “simply are not in line with what was presented to us by CPD, and not born out by the evidence we received.”
“I don’t play politics,” she told the Sun-Times. “We do prosecutions. And it’s why we do our best to not engage in public conversations about cases because we recognize that as tragic and horrific as these incidents are, that if we want to see criminal justice and accountability, we do that in the courtroom.”
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.
During a budget hearing with top police officials earlier Monday, Ald. Chris Taliaferro, who represents the 29th Ward where the shooting erupted, said it was “very horrific” that charges were rejected as he demanded answers about the investigation.
“Those folks are back on the streets,” said Taliaferro, who chairs the Public Safety Committee and signed onto the letter to Foxx. “And I can almost guarantee you they’ll be shooting up again this weekend.”
Supt. David Brown agreed that the shootout was between “mutual combatants,” saying it wasn’t immediately clear who fired first and who may have been acting in self-defense. But in cases involving mutual combat in which both parties willfully engage in violence, Brown said police seek charges against everyone involved and look to “have the jury sort it out.”
Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan later acknowledged there were some issues building cases against the suspects and said the police video footage doesn’t clearly show who was shooting into the home. None of the arrestees cooperated with investigators.
Still, in cases like these, if CPD cannot secure a murder charge, they often seek “some sort of possession of gun charge or some sort of discharge of a firearm” charge, Deenihan said.
In their letter to Foxx, Lightfoot and the City Council members said Brown and Deenihan flatly opposed the decision to reject charges, despite Foxx’s claim that detectives were on board.
The leaders specifically asked Foxx to reconsider felony charges, such as attempted murder, against two individuals who helped spark the shootout, apparently referencing the Body Snatchers who were taken into custody. But they also urged her to continue scrutinizing the other men who were arrested after the SWAT situation at the home.
“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. “What can we tell the residents of this community about the legitimacy of the criminal justice system?”
Foxx told the Sun-Times that she plans to meet with Taliaferro and his colleagues to discuss their concerns. As far as the case is concerned, she said her office will review any additional evidence and file charges if they’re appropriate.
“This was an incredibly horrifying situation that has impacted a neighborhood and our entire city. And people are righteously angry, scared, frustrated,” she said. “But we still have an obligation to adhere to the law.”