To Garry McCarthy, then Chicago’s police superintendent, there was no doubt about it: Antonio Brown should have been locked up.
On July 5, 2015, McCarthy told reporters that Brown had been the intended target of a gang shooting at a Fourth of July celebration the night before that instead left Brown’s 7-year-old son Amari dead.
With TV cameras rolling, McCarthy paged through Brown’s rap sheet, which he said included 45 arrests. And beyond that, Brown had been arrested for illegal gun possession that April and then released on bail — an example, McCarthy said, of gun offenders being treated too lightly by the justice system.
“If Mr. Brown is in custody,” he said, “his son is alive.”
It was one more instance of McCarthy pointing to someone accused of gun crimes as further evidence that Illinois’ gun laws are too weak — a stance on which he has found agreement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his successor at the Chicago Police Department, Supt. Eddie Johnson.
Now, Antonio Brown has been found “not guilty” of the gun charges that McCarthy said he should be jailed for.
A Cook County judge issued the ruling Monday after Brown’s lawyer raised questions about the credibility of police accounts of the case.
“It was horrible police work, frankly,” attorney Donna Rotunno says.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says: “We respect the court’s decision and stand behind the work of the officers, detectives and prosecutors in the Brown case. The seriousness of how our criminal justice system treats habitual gun crime, as well as the effectiveness of deterring felons from carrying illegal guns in Chicago, is well represented in this case.”
A spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office had no comment on the ruling.
Prosecutors previously have said they’re having a tougher time winning gun cases because of public distrust over police tactics. And new State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, inaugurated earlier this month, has said restoring trust between the public and law enforcement is one of her top priorities.
The gun case against Brown and the investigation into Amari’s murder point to how difficult it is to find solutions for Chicago’s violence.
On April 6, 2015, two West Side police officers responded to a radio call saying that a gold Infiniti had fled from police in West Humboldt Park — and that the driver might have a gun in his lap.
On the Eisenhower Expressway, the cops caught sight of the car, which Brown was driving while another man was in the passenger’s seat, according to their report. When he saw the police, they said, Brown tried to veer off the highway and crashed.
The officers’ report said they saw Brown “exit the vehicle while holding a black revolver in his right hand. Offender then turned and tossed same revolver onto right seat of vehicle.”
One of the officers reported recovering a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver from the car. As other officers arrived — in all, 17 of them — one caught up with Brown, knocked him down and placed him under arrest, according to the police report, which described Brown, then 28, as a “self-admitted” member of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang.
Brown — who had four previous felony drug convictions — was charged with being an armed habitual criminal, gun possession by a felon and other offenses. He posted $5,000 of his $50,000 bail to go free until his trial.
On the night of July 4, 2015, Amari was shot in the chest while watching fireworks at his father’s West Side home. Another woman was also hit but not killed. It was a particularly violent weekend in Chicago that left nine people dead and more than 60 others wounded by gunfire.
The following day, at a news conference to discuss the boy’s killing, McCarthy made headlines by railing against Amari’s father and blasted the state’s gun laws and bail system, which he said were too weak to be a deterrent to gang members with illegal guns.
The day after that, Emanuel joined in, criticizing Brown and the state’s gun laws and saying, “You have a criminal justice system that lets out too many people repeatedly who use guns.”
Later that month, the police arrested Rasheed Martin, 20, in connection with the shooting, and this past April they arrested a second man, Jamal Joiner, 21. Despite McCarthy’s pronouncement that the shooters had been going after Brown, the indictment of Martin and Joiner says they were trying to kill someone else.
In the meantime, Brown was arrested again — this time for fleeing police when they tried to pull him over. He had to post another $5,000 to stay out of jail and was placed on home confinement, though he was given permission to work and to attend classes at Malcolm X College. That case is pending in court.
Brown’s gun case finally came to trial Monday before Cook County Circuit Judge Erica Reddick. In court, the two officers who pursued Brown offered details that weren’t in their original report, Rotunno says, and their accounts didn’t always match. One said he saw Brown throw the gun into the car, while the other didn’t see that. And one officer said he chased after the passenger who was with Brown in the car — something that wasn’t in the police report — before coming back and finding the gun.
Rotunno, a former Cook County prosecutor, says, “I’m not some bleeding heart for the gang community.” She didn’t dispute that a gun was found. But she argued there was no proof it belonged to Brown or that the police had seen him holding it. She pointed out that he didn’t own the car and that it had been on the side of the expressway during the foot chase, so someone could have put the gun before or after Brown was in the car.
Brown was acquitted on all nine charges he faced.