Over the weekend, Illinois prosecutors released without charge five men connected to a deadly gang-related shootout in Chicago, citing a lack of evidence and the legal term “mutual combat” as justification.
The shootout took place Friday morning between two factions of the Four Corner Hustlers gang — the “Body Snatchers” and the “Jack Boys” — at a single-family home in Austin, a community of Chicago’s West Side. The shootout left one gang member dead and two wounded, according to a police report and law enforcement source, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
The source said that police sought to charge all five suspects with a pair of felonies — first-degree murder and aggravated battery. But by Sunday morning, a police spokesperson announced that all suspects had “been released without charges.”
Later, Cristina Villareal, a spokesperson for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, explained that the prosecutors “determined that the evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to approve felony charges.”
Though Villareal didn’t detail what specific evidence the prosecutors would need to file the charges, the Sun-Times found that the police report “framed the state’s attorney’s office’s decision to decline charges in a different light: ‘Mutual combatants was cited as the reason for the rejection.’”
Mutual combat, according to the Chicago Criminal Lawyer Blog, is defined as a physical confrontation in which two individuals willingly engage each other “usually because of an instantaneous quarrel where tempers are at their heights.” The blog explains that mutual combat can be used as “another version of ‘self-defense’ when “the alleged victim is proven to be the actual aggressor in the confrontation.”
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office did not explain how a legal principle allowing for consensual physical altercations between two people — such as a drunken fistfight outside of a bar — can expand to justify gang warfare.
Last week, Cook County prosecutors, led by Democratic State Attorney for Cook County Kim Foxx, reportedly used the same “mutual combat” rationale when declining to charge a 17-year-old boy who stabbed to death 18-year old Manuel Porties Jr. during a fight in a northwestern Chicago suburb, WGN-TV reported.
The law enforcement source expressed concern that Cook County’s trend to reject criminal charges for gang fights “could encourage more brash violence,” in the words of the Sun-Times.
Should these gang members have been charged?
On Monday, Democratic Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and five Democratic aldermen sent Foxx a letter pleading that she reconsider her decision that felony charges not be filed in the case.
“[W]e simply do not understand the decision not to seek felony charges,” they wrote. “Giving these kinds of violent offenders a pass when their crime is fully captured on video with police on the scene is simply unacceptable.”
Here’s the letter Mayor Lori Lightfoot and West Side aldermen sent to State’s Attorney Kim Foxx pic.twitter.com/AAbcZWE5il
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) October 4, 2021
Friday morning’s deadly gang shootout ended when a police cruiser pulled into the block in Austin, causing the “Body Snatcher” faction to flee the scene, leaving a fatally wounded gang member behind. The other “Jack Boys” faction refused to leave the house, leading to a standoff with a SWAT team. In the end, 70 shell casings were found outside the house where the fight went down.
Much of the mayhem was captured on police video starting when officers first arrived on the scene.
The law enforcement source described the confrontation as something out of a Hollywood movie set. “It’s just like the wild West,” the source said.
Still, the shootout wasn’t even included in the Sun-Times’ list of shootings that occurred over the weekend. In the timeframe between 5:00 p.m. Friday night until 5:00 a.m. Monday morning, the newspaper reported that four people were killed and 41 were wounded across Chicago. One of the dead victims was 17-year-old Martinus M. King, who was shot in a basement in Chicago’s Far South Side.
The previous weekend resulted in even more devastation with 10 dead and 58 wounded. The outlet did not name any arrests resulting from the multiple events over both weekends.
Foxx has come under fire for what critics call her “lower threshold for fighting crime” since she took office in 2016.
According to her website, Foxx was re-elected in March to lead the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the U.S. Her platform included a pledge to reform the justice system by prioritizing “violent crime and keeping our communities safe, rather than using resources to prosecute non-violent, low-level offenders.”
The Democrat’s prioritization resulted in the highest homicide rate in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s history in 2020, according to a report the office released in January. In 2020, the office handled more homicide cases — 970 — than its previous record dating back to 1994, when its homicide cases totaled 838.
The year 2020 saw more than a 40 percent increase in murders from numbers the medical examiner’s office obtained in 2019. And according to its latest numbers from June 2021, gun-related homicides are up 15 percent as compared to last year, with African-Americans and Latinos identified as 99 percent of the victims.