‘How can he do that?’: Police Superintendent David Brown appears to overstate links to mass shooting in Chicago

·8 min read

CHICAGO — About 15 hours after a corner in the Back of the Yards neighborhood was sprayed with gunfire Tuesday, leaving one man dead and four others wounded, Chicago police Superintendent David Brown held a news conference to update the public on the mass shooting.

Brown said a long-standing gang conflict had resulted in several shootings, including the one he was concentrating on, and said police knew how it started: A 28-year-old high-ranking gang member who had been “released recently” from federal prison and whose brother was fatally shot in April was a driver of the violence.

In addition, just a month before that shooting, the man had been stopped in the Back of the Yards with a gun and was released on a $1,000 cash bond, Brown said.

“He is free on cash bond, we believe, based on our intelligence, driving this retaliatory violence between two gangs for the last six weeks,” Brown said.

Brown went on to say that the Police Department “was in conversations” with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office about having the man’s bond revoked.

But a Tribune review of public records shows that some details Brown related were at least overstated and at worst inaccurate.

The Tribune could not find any record of the man serving time in federal prison. And while he had served time in state prison on weapons and assault charges, he was released from state prison a full two years ago — in March 2020, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

It is not the first time that information provided by the Police Department has been challenged. In January, Mayor Lori Lightfoot relied on a Police Department list of alleged repeat criminal offenders to ask the Cook County chief criminal court judge to immediately stop relying on electronic monitoring for certain defendants. A Tribune review of those records found flawed data, however, including the wrong charges for some of those on the list.

The comment about the release of the man Brown identified from prison was notable because while there is often tension on the street when people return home after incarceration, it tends to happen near the release date, experts said.

In his remarks, Brown focused heavily on the April shooting of the man’s brother as an incident that led to the retaliatory shootings. But he also mentioned his release from prison, citing department intelligence.

“Why it happened is that some weeks ago a high-ranking member of one of these gangs is released on parole, on federal parole, after spending three years in the federal penitentiary,” Brown said. “He is then arrested March 27 by our officers for possessing a weapon as a felon. He receives a cash bond. Nearly a month later, April 19, his brother is murdered, I believe, by a member of a rival gang. And since April we have seen escalating violence between the two.”

Other city officials at the news conference also seemed to pick up on the mention of the man’s release from prison, with one noting the impact “returning citizens” can have on peace agreements.

But it was Brown’s decision to name the man at all that set off alarms for legal observers and law enforcement sources. It was a significant departure from standard police practice, where names of offenders are released only after they are named in an arrest warrant or charged.

“If they thought they had enough to establish probable cause, they should have gone to a judge to request an arrest warrant,” said Cathryn Crawford, a Chicago public defense attorney. “(Brown) is not even saying he committed an offense. He is saying he is responsible. I have never seen that before. I was appalled. My immediate thought was, ‘How can he do that?’”

Though Brown named the man, the Tribune is not publishing his identity because the paper only publishes the names of those named in formal charging documents.

On Thursday, the man issued a statement to the Tribune through his attorney, Robert L. Rascia, saying he was “very concerned for the safety of his family and his own (safety)” and calling the superintendent’s statements “highly inappropriate and inflammatory.”

When asked why naming the man was necessary, the Chicago Police Department’s Office of News Affairs issued a statement Wednesday, without addressing the question:

“The Chicago Police Department’s top priority is public safety citywide,” the statement read. “We will not tolerate violence anywhere in our communities. Each shooting is investigated thoroughly for motive as we work to identify, apprehend and bring to justice the individuals responsible for violent crime in our neighborhoods.”

The office issued no additional comment Thursday.

Within hours of the news conference, the man Brown named had his picture and identity published on other websites.

“I would say it is grossly inappropriate (to name him),” said Tania Dimitrova, a Chicago criminal defense attorney who has represented people accused of gang-related activity.

“Especially if he has not been charged. By putting his name out there, it might cause additional backlash,” Dimitrova said. “Maybe gang members, but also citizens who are concerned with the increase in gang violence, who may take the superintendent’s word at face value and blame this individual.”

And while Brown’s comments potentially put the man at risk, there are also concerns, some said, that the risk would extend to the community and police, who work daily in the Back of the Yards to calm tensions.

“He is endangering everybody,” said longtime criminal defense attorney Gal Pissetzky, who also has represented high-ranking gang members. “Instead of trying to end violence and bring everybody together, this is the exact opposite.”

Pissetzky also said that while the man’s name might not mean anything to the general public, it does to those swept into ongoing street conflicts.

“The people who to pay attention to it are the people in the gangs,” he said. “They immediately think, ‘Who is the snitch?’”

There is no doubt that the Back of the Yards is experiencing an uptick in shootings. Some 20 people have been shot in the Deering Police District, which includes the Back of the Yards between April 17 and May 12, according to official statistics.

That includes the 29-year-old brother of the man Brown named, who was shot and killed on April 19. According to Chicago police reports, he was standing on his block when someone opened fire.

A month earlier, during his March 2022 arrest, the man allegedly admitted to officers that he had a gun — but to protect himself and his family. .

“I have it for my protection,” a police report quotes him saying, then adds, “the offender stated in essence he bought the firearm to protect his family because people are shooting at him.”

On Thursday, back on the block, some 50 people gathered near the scene of the shooting on south Ada Street as the Rev. David Kelly of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation led them in prayer.

Among them was Rosalba Jimenez, 43, whose 19-year-old son Eduardo was gunned down two days earlier Jimenez was surrounded by her children as dozens of white, green and red star-shaped balloons were released. At least three marked Chicago police cars sat nearby.

“I love my son so much,” she said at one point during the vigil. “He was a nice person with a nice heart.”

Kelly spoke in Spanish and English to the crowd, which included the family, neighbors holding Modelo beers or the hands of young children, outreach workers and members of the gang that police said the shooting victims belonged to.

“We gather together today to celebrate our faith, even in the midst of our pain and hurt and anger, to nevertheless call on our God to not be distant, not be far,” Kelly said. “We pray especially for Eduardo Jimenez.”

When Kelly asked for comments about Eduardo from the crowd, a 19-year-old man, who was Eduardo’s friend, asked to speak.

“He’s a real brother, you know what I’m saying? He looked out for a lot of people. … His name will forever live on,” the man said. “He will never be forgotten. He’s resting in a better place. He don’t got to worry. He don’t got to stress. … And I hope he’s doing good up there.”

The 19-year-old friend spoke with the Tribune after the prayer, and he said he was there when the shooting happened. He said he had heard what Brown said about the shooting, and said, “It’s all (expletive).”

The friend said he doesn’t believe that the killing that occurred last month was the cause of Tuesday’s shooting that took his friend’s life.

“I feel like this is a gang war that’s been happening since I was a kid,” he said.

No arrests have been made in the shooting as of Thursday afternoon, according to Chicago police.

“They’re calling us rival gang members,” the man said. “If you’re police, you’re supposed to serve all sides, every side, everyone.”

____