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Dozens of people are asking a court to throw out their convictions on drug charges because they say they were framed by the same former Chicago Police sergeant who judges have determined shook down dozens moreBy DON BABWIN Associated PressJuly 20, 2021, 7:25 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCHICAGO — Dozens of people are asking a court to throw out their drug convictions, alleging they were framed by the same former Chicago Police sergeant who judges have determined shook down other residents of one of the city’s poorest communities.Tuesday’s court filing on behalf of 88 people is the latest development in one of the darkest chapters in the history of the city’s police force. A unit led by a Black sergeant, Ronald Watts, for nearly a decade until 2012 planted drugs or falsely accused housing project residents and others of drug crimes unless they paid the officers off.In court hearings that began five years ago, residents of Ida B. Wells public housing on the South Side told strikingly similar stories of doing nothing more dangerous than parking their cars, walking in the hallway or sitting on a bench when Watts or others on his team shook them down.On Tuesday, some of those named in the petition told of how their lives were devastated by their convictions.“I lost my apartment, had to be separated from my children. I was homeless, on the streets for 15 years,” Laurarence Coleman told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.Coleman said she was one of many arrested who pleaded guilty because they knew they had little hope of convincing a judge or a jury that the officers were lying, and that fighting the charges would mean risking a sentence far longer than the one prosecutors were offering.“Many were force to plead guilty because they knew no one would listen to the truth,” attorney Joel Flaxman, who represents 28 named in the petition, said in a statement before the news conference.As others convicted in cases involving Watts have said in the past, Coleman said she still struggles to regain control of her life.“I can’t get a job … because they look at my background and see ‘criminal.’ I’m not a criminal,” she said.This petition filed in Cook County Circuit Court comes five months after a judge threw out the latest batch of more than 100 drug convictions of people who were allegedly framed by Watts and his unit.The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which has agreed to requests to toss out dozens of convictions, did not comment on the petitions of these 88 people other than to say in a statement that it is “continuing to review cases tied to” Watts.But one indication that the office’s work is far from complete came from Joshua Tepfer, who has said Watts was involved with perhaps 500 convictions in the eight-year period that ended in 2012.Tepfer criticized the city for not punishing many of the officers associated with Watts and his unit. Watts and another officer pleaded guilty in 2013 to stealing money from an FBI informant. Watts received a 22-month prison sentence.But in December, the police department acknowledged that 15 other officers associated with Watts and his unit were placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation. The department did not immediately respond Tuesday to a question about the status of that investigation.
Police say three undercover law enforcement officers were shot and wounded while driving onto an expressway on Chicago’s South Side and that a “person of interest” was in custody and being questioned by detectivesBy DON BABWIN Associated PressJuly 7, 2021, 8:12 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCHICAGO — Three undercover law enforcement officers were shot and wounded Wednesday morning while driving onto an expressway on Chicago’s South Side, and detectives were questioning a “person of interest” about the shooting, police said.The shooting occurred at 5:50 a.m. near the 22nd District police station in the city’s Morgan Park neighborhood. The three were in an unmarked undercover vehicle on their way to an assignment when they were shot, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown told reporters.Two of the officers are agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and one is a Chicago officer, Brown said. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening. A department spokesman told the Associated Press that a person of interest was in custody and being questioned by detectives. He did not provide any other details.The shooting came ahead of a scheduled visit to suburban Crystal Lake, Illinois, by President Joe Biden. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she plans to discuss gun control and the city’s violence, which has included an increase in shootings this year, when she meets with the president.A Justice Department spokesperson said Attorney General Merrick Garland was briefed on the shooting and aboard Air Force One on the president’s flight to Chicago, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was also “monitoring the situation in coordination with the Department of Justice and ATF.”When Air Force One landed, Biden spoke with Lightfoot, expressing his personal support for the officers who were shot. He reiterated his commitment to working with the mayor and leaders in Chicago in the fight against gun violence and conveyed that the Department of Justice would soon be in touch about the strike force announced just a few weeks ago that will be working with Chicago and other cities.“I will note, in terms of efforts the president has under way to address the rise in violence we’ve seen over the last 18 months, including in Chicago, there are a number of steps that impact Chicago directly,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters before Air Force One landed.At a morning press briefing, Brown declined to talk about what the officers were working on. He did not say whether the shooter or shooters knew that they were officers, and department spokesman Tom Ahern later said detectives had not yet interviewed the three officers to determine if they believe whoever shot them knew they were law enforcement officers.The officers, Brown said, were driving on an onramp to Interstate 57 when they were “fired upon from the street.” One of the ATF agents was shot in the hand and the other was struck in the torso, Brown said from outside a hospital where the officers were taken. He said the Chicago officer was struck on the back of his head but that “it appears to be a graze wound.”The shootings come a day after police reported that 100 people were shot in Chicago — including two police officers who were wounded while trying to break up a crowd — over the long Fourth of July weekend.With Wednesday’s shooting, 36 Chicago officers have been shot or shot at this year, Brown said.“This is a very challenging time to be in law enforcement but they are rising to the challenge of doing all they can. And the work they do is extremely dangerous,” Brown said.The holiday weekend shootings included 18 homicides. The bloodshed was comparable to the long Fourth of July weekend last year, when 17 people were fatally shot and 70 more were wounded.———Associated Press writers Corey Williams in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Alexandra Jaffe, traveling with President Biden, contributed to this report.
Chicago police say 100 people — including two officers — were shot in the city during the long Fourth of July weekendBy DON BABWIN Associated PressJuly 6, 2021, 10:17 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCHICAGO — One hundred people — including two police officers — were shot in Chicago over the long Fourth of July weekend, including 18 homicides, the city’s police department said Tuesday.Among those injured were at least a dozen children. None of them had died as of Tuesday morning, but at least three of the minors were in critical condition.The bloodshed was comparable to the long Fourth of July weekend last year, when 17 people were fatally shot and 70 more were wounded. A 7-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy were among the dead that weekend.Police Superintendent David Brown put much of the blame for the gun violence on a court system that allows people charged with violent crimes, including murder, to be released from custody on electronic monitoring.“The courts releasing people charged with murder back into the communities…. is creating an unsafe environment for all of us,” Brown said at a news conference.Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans took issue with Brown’s criticism of electronic monitoring, saying in a statement Tuesday that it is “based on the constitutional principle should not be imprisonment before they are tried, unless they pose a significant danger to the community.”Evans did not mention Brown by name or respond directly to his comments about a 7-year-old girl who was fatally shot in April, allegedly by a man who was on electronic monitoring in another case. But he made it clear that such comments were unfair.“Looking at individual tragic cases in isolation may contribute to the speculation that releasing individuals before trial rather than incarcerating them — whether by placing them on Electronic Monitoring (EM) or other forms of supervision — means an increase in crime,” he said. “But speculation based on isolated cases is not the same as reality based on a complete picture, and research has shown that bail reform has not led to an increase in crime.”Brown has been under pressure for the violent crime that rose dramatically in 2020 compared to the year before and shows little sign of slowing down thus far this year. Even before the holiday weekend, the department said in the first six months of the year there were 332 homicides compared to 338 for the same period last year and that there were more shooting victims and shooting incidents than during the same six-month period last year.He picked up Tuesday where he left off last week when he was called before the City Council to explain his crime fighting strategies ahead of what is traditionally one of the most violent weekends of the year.As he did in his City Council appearance, Brown defended his department, including in his briefing to reporters that his officers had recovered 244 illegal guns over the long weekend.“Strategy-wise, we did our part,” he said.———This story has been updated to correct that person charged in the killing of a 7-year-old girl was on electronic monitoring, but not in a murder case.
A Chicago Police officer who fatally shot an armed man in the back during a foot pursuit in March has been stripped of his police powersBy DON BABWIN Associated PressJune 28, 2021, 7:48 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCHICAGO — A Chicago police officer who fatally shot an armed man in the back during a foot pursuit in March has been stripped of his police powers, the department confirmed on Monday.Chicago Police Department spokesman Tom Ahern said Officer Evan Solano has been stripped of his powers pending an investigation into the March 31 shooting of Anthony Alvarez.Superintendent David Brown did not explain why he waited until Monday to announce the move that was recommended by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability at least two months ago. Ahern said Brown told reporters that he made the decision after COPA provided him with more information.John Catanzara, president of the Chicago police union, didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment.Solano fatally shot the 22-year-old Alvarez two days after another Chicago officer shot and killed 13-year-old Adam Toledo during another foot pursuit. Video footage of that pursuit shows the teen was carrying a handgun that he either dropped or tossed aside less than a second before he was shot in the chest.Video footage from Solano’s body camera shows a foot pursuit in which the officer can be heard shouting, “Drop the gun! Drop the gun,” before he opens fire. Alvarez appears to drop the gun after five shots ring out and he falls to the ground.The shootings of the teen and Alvarez, both Hispanic, put the department under intense scrutiny and raised further questions about a force that has long been dogged by a reputation for brutality and racism. While COPA did not recommend that the officer who shot Adam Toledo, Eric Stillman, be relieved of his police powers, it did recommend that Solano be stripped of his.Shortly after the the teenager was killed, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she had ordered the departmen t to draft an interim foot pursuit policy. Last month, the department announced a policy that, among other things, prohibits foot pursuits for minor traffic violations, and bars officers from separating from partners if they can’t see the person they’re chasing or if the officer or the person is injured.Though the police department has not said why the officers were chasing Alvarez in the first place, Lightfoot suggested that it was related to a minor traffic offense, saying, “We can’t live in a world where a minor traffic offense results in someone being shot and killed.”A key difference between the two shootings is that Stillman was chasing the teen after gunshots were fired nearby, allegedly by a man who authorities say was with Adam the night he died.
Police say an argument in a house on Chicago’s South Side erupted into gunfire, leaving four people dead and four more woundedBy DON BABWIN Associated PressJune 15, 2021, 9:19 PM• 4 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleCHICAGO — An argument in a house on Chicago’s South Side erupted into gunfire early Tuesday, leaving four people dead and four more injured, police said.The shooting happened at about 5:45 a.m. in the Englewood neighborhood, police said. No one has been arrested and police provided few details about the shooting. None of the victims appeared to be juveniles.At a news conference Tuesday morning, Police Superintendent David Brown said three of the victims who died were female and one was male. The department earlier reported that all four were female.Detectives were trying to determine if there was more than one shooter, police spokesman Tom Ahern said. A 2-year-old child was removed safely from the house and placed in protective custody, he said.Authorities have not released the identities and ages of the four who died.The injured included two men who were shot in the back of the head. Police were unable to provide information on their conditions. A 23-year-old man who was shot in the back and a woman who suffered an unspecified gunshot wound were both in critical condition, police said.Brown said detectives haven’t been able to interview the four surviving victims, who were being treated at hospitals. But he said a witness told police there were gunshots at about 2 a.m. and that the department’s ShotSpotter gunfire detection system picked up the sound of gunfire at that time. Brown did not provide any details about whether that gunfire was related to the shooting at the house. The witness told police more gunshots rang out at about 5:45 a.m.Brown also said the police received several calls about disturbances at the residence, but did not elaborate. He said a high-capacity magazine and shell casings were recovered from the scene and that there was no apparent forced entry.The shooting comes a few days after a woman was killed and nine other people were injured when two men opened fire on a group standing on a sidewalk in Chatham, also on the city’s South Side. Police said no one has been arrested in that shooting. Several mass shootings over the weekend have stoked concerns about a spike in U.S. gun violence heading into the summer, as coronavirus restrictions ease and more people are free to socialize.A database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings — defined as four or more dead, not including the perpetrator — shows Tuesday’s shooting in Chicago is the 18th mass killing, of which 17 were shootings, so far this year in the U.S.Englewood has long been one of the most violent communities in Chicago, and the city has experienced more homicides this year compared with the same period last year. There were 282 homicides in Chicago as of June 13, compared with 269 during the same period last year.Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters that the city needs federal help to combat violence and said the White House had reached out to offer assistance.“We must acknowledge this for what it is — a tragedy that’s ripped apart families and inflicted intense trauma,” Lightfoot said.Lightfoot was one of 27 mayors to sign a letter to President Joe Biden from the United States Conference of Mayors “urging immediate action” to combat gun violence and the flood of illegal guns pouring into their cities.“There are too many guns on our streets and we need a federal and nationalized strategy in order to deal with this, just like the Biden administration dealt with COVID-19,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner during a video news conference.They asked the White House to “take a leadership role in enacting meaningful and common-sense gun control legislation,” push for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.Perhaps recognizing there is little chance that Congress will pass much of the legislation they support, the mayors also asked Biden to take as many steps as he can that don’t require Congressional approval.“The administration has to fully empower the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) to go after federally licensed gun dealers who we know are selling to straw purchasers,” Lightfoot said, referring to the practice of buying guns legally and selling them to those who cannot legally own firearms.