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When told more evidence was needed, CPD detective wanted prosecutors to reject charges against suspect in slaying of 7-year-old girl: prosecution memo
Once the charges were rejected, at least one high-ranking CPD official, in an unusual move, suggested police would circumvent prosecutors and have the suspect charged directly. The dispute and the memo illustrate the ongoing tensions between Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Tuesday, September 07, 2021 Chicago Sun-Times by Matthew Hendrickson
Cook County prosecutors contend a Chicago police detective asked them to reject charges against a suspect in the slaying of a 7-year-old girl when they indicated more evidence was needed in the high-profile case because the detective said he “had not seen his family and was tired and was not willing to do any more work on the case,” according to a prosecution memo obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
Once the charges were rejected, at least one high-ranking CPD official, in an unusual move, suggested police would circumvent prosecutors and have the suspect charged directly. Police approached a judge to get additional time to do that without prosecutors’ knowledge, according to the memo and sources familiar with the matter.
The dispute and the memo illustrate the ongoing tensions between Chicago police and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Detectives privately complain prosecutors make unreasonable demands in terms of evidence needed in cases, more than they’ve been ever asked before under previous top prosecutors. Prosecutors, however, contend they are simply requesting evidence needed to meet the high burden of proof.
In early discussions about the slaying of the 7-year-old, Serenity Broughton, prosecutors wanted police to bring in a witness for an additional interview and asked police to hold off on the arrest of a potential suspect as the investigation continued, according to the memo.
But an arrest was made anyway, and detectives went to prosecutors to approve charges.
Prosecutors offered to let police further investigate rather than reject the charges.
However, the detective, who didn’t think a witness could be located, declined that offer, saying he wanted prosecutors to reject charges and he “did not wish to do any more work on the case,” the memo said.
The suspect was sitting in a car that two people were seen running back to after shots were fired that afternoon in Belmont Cragin, but there was no evidence they had been involved in the crime and none of the individuals were seen with weapons, the memo said.
A state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman Monday said charges were rejected because there was insufficient evidence and added, “police agreed with this decision.”
The Sun-Times is not naming the suspect because he hasn’t been charged.
The man was on parole for a 2018 attempted armed robbery conviction but has been released from CPD custody, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Police official asks for ‘favor,’ cites department ‘morale problems’
After the charges were rejected, CPD Cmdr. Eric Winstrom called a prosecutor and asked her “do him a favor and charge the case” because his “team had bad morale problems and [he] will not be able to keep his team together with the rejections that have happened,” the memo said.
Prosecutors again offered to classify the case as a continuing investigation, but Winstrom also rejected that option, saying he would pursue a felony override, the memo said.
Police have a limited amount of time after an arrest before the suspect is charged by prosecutors. Felony override allows police to bypass the state’s attorney’s office and charge a suspect with a felony, but the override is only supposed to be used after police have exhausted all other options of working with prosecutors.
If police did file the charges in Serenity’s murder last week — which apparently never happened — prosecutors had planned to drop the case against the suspect if he appeared at a bond hearing, a prosecution source said.
The memo said Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan Friday also talked with a prosecutor who told Deenihan “what is happening with Area 5 is outrageous and needs to be immediately addressed,” apparently referring to detectives not being willing to continue to investigate cases that prosecutors say don’t meet their burden of proof.
Later Friday, police officials attempted to seek a judge’s order, that if approved, would allow police to hold the suspect longer without charging him and give them time to pursue a felony override, a source said.
Officials with Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans’ office weren’t able to provide additional information Tuesday.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the matter, only saying the murder investigation is ongoing.
“The Chicago Police Department is committed to holding those responsible for the murder of 7-year-old Serenity Broughton, and the wounding of her 6-year-old sister Aubrey, accountable,” the police spokesman said in a statement. “We are working closely on this investigation with the Cook County State’s Attorney to bring forward justice for Serenity, Aubrey, and their family.”
Political pressure to charge heats up
This isn’t the first time Area 5 detectives have had a disagreement over charging suspects with prosecutors from State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office.
In August, prosecutors refused to charge a suspect in the killing of Chrys Carvajal, a 19-year-old Illinois National Guard soldier shot to death about 1:30 a.m. on July 3 in the 2200 block of North Lockwood Avenue, also in Belmont Cragin.
Police said they identified the vehicle used in the shooting and obtained data putting the suspect’s cellphone in the area of the shooting. The 38-year-old man, a Milwaukee Kings gang member, jumped out of the car and randomly shot Carvajal, police said.
Prosecutors said they rejected filing charges in that case as well because of insufficient evidence.
Police had “the wrong person” identified in that case, according to the memo, which did not include additional information.
In both killings, Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) denounced prosecutors’ decisions not to file charges.
“What else do you want? You’re not going to have the person who committed the crime say ‘I did it,’” he said last month of the Carvajal case.
And on Saturday, Villegas tweeted: “This is the 2nd murder case where my community comes forward to provide witnesses and the 2nd time the murderer is released back into the community. Why the hell should they come forward to help if all there [sic] doing is putting themselves at risk now.”
Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) has also been critical of the decision to not approve charges in the cases. In an interview with Fox News, Lopez called the decision to not bring charges “mind-boggling” and “a message telling Chicagoans that ... political leadership is not there to hold criminals accountable.”
In a statement Tuesday, Foxx said her office has “an ethical obligation to review the facts, evidence, and law in each case and only bring charges when there is sufficient evidence to support a charge.
“As Cook County State Attorney, and as a mother, I am committed to ensuring justice and accountability on behalf of victims of violent crime, especially children . . . We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners as we work towards justice on behalf of the People of Cook County,” Foxx said.