Suspected cop killer prowled seedy world of Lower Wacker

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Suspected cop killer Shomari Legghette was feared among the homeless residents of Lower Wacker Drive. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Some of the homeless people who live in the dark netherworld of Lower Wacker Drive say they won’t forget Shomari Legghette.

The muscular, 6-foot-tall man was a bully —and worse, they say.

Last week, a Chicago Sun-Times reporter spoke with half a dozen of the down-and-out denizens of Lower Wacker. Some of them nodded in recognition when they were shown last week’s photo of Legghette on the front page of the newspaper.

They knew him. And they said they were relieved he’s behind bars —probably for good — on charges of murdering Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer.

“He’s no good, mean,” one man in a gray hooded sweatshirt said of Legghette. “Really bad.”

“I’m small. He tried to intimidate me. I wouldn’t back down. I used to gang bang. He didn’t scare me. But he terrorized them.”

Shomari Legghette

Shomari Legghette is charged in last week’s shooting death of Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer. | CPD photo

Chicago police

The man was pointing to a camp of men and women who are living in blankets and boxes in a concrete enclosure along Lower Wacker a couple of blocks west of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

Legghette’s last listed address was on the South Side, but he regularly prowled Lower Wacker, according to the residents there.

When most Chicagoans refer to Lower Wacker, what they’re really talking about is the labyrinth of underground streets and alleys under the downtown area —including Wacker and cross streets such as Post Place, Beaubien Court and Stetson Avenue.

Lower Wacker near Columbus Drive has three levels —the deepest of which is often referred to as Lower Lower Wacker, where trucks can service downtown hotels and office buildings through their basements.

The sidewalks in Lower Wacker are slick with pigeon droppings and black grime. Only the occasional ray of shine breaks through the gloom in the spaces between the ramps.

But this no-man’s land is where dozens of people call home, braving 10-degree winter nights and sweltering summer days. Many are drug addicts. Small-time heroin deals are common. Tiny empty plastic Ziploc bags —which once contained $10 doses of heroin —litter the sidewalks.

On summer weekends, outsiders gravitate to the empty streets of Lower Wacker for another reason: drag racing. The roaring engines can be heard in apartments 50 stories up. Occasionally, the drivers crash, and sometimes die.

Lower Lower Wacker, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Lower Lower Wacker, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

The police acknowledge that the drag racing and drug dealing are problems —but they also say that crime is not out of control there.

Bauer, who was the commander of the Near North District, had assigned a marked vehicle to patrol Lower Wacker and sometimes had plainclothes officers working the area in unmarked vehicles, said Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the police department.

One man hanging out on a ramp leading to Lower Lower Wacker said he knew Bauer —and Legghette.

“Commander Bauer was a good man. He would come down here sometimes to see how we were doing,” said the man, who refused to give his name like all the people the Sun-Times interviewed.

Asked about Legghette, the man tensed up.

“He was all business,” the man said. “You didn’t get away with not paying him.”

A large camp of homeless people along Lower Wacker Drive on Feb. 15, 2018.  | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

A large camp of homeless people along Lower Wacker Drive on Feb. 15, 2018. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Legghette was known in the world of Lower Wacker by his nickname “Strictly Business,” several of the residents said, confirming what police sources told the Sun-Times.

A small group of men who camp together in Lower Lower Wacker said they watch out for each other —and aren’t afraid of violent felons like Legghette.

One by one, three of them reached into the many layers of coats and shirts they were wearing and pulled out tube socks tied off at the ends and filled with coins.

One of the men swung his sock violently.

“We have weapons, too,” he said, smiling.

A review of city crime data shows 154 reports of crimes along Lower Wacker Drive and its side streets in 2017. They included 10 robberies and six cases of narcotics possession.

Police investigate after a man was shot on Monday afternoon along Lower Wacker Drive near Garland Court underneath the Loop. | Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

Police investigate after a man was shot along Lower Wacker Drive near Garland Court in July 2017. | Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

Thefts were the most frequently reported crime on Lower Wacker last year. There were also 25 assaults and batteries and five motor vehicle thefts.

Of all the crimes reported there in 2017, there have been 24 arrests. Nine of those arrests were for drug possession and two of them were for robberies.

Still, Guglielmi said, “It’s certainly not a haven of violence.”

On the afternoon of Feb. 9, though, someone could have been killed. A shooter in a vehicle fired a gun at another vehicle traveling in the opposite direction on Lower Wacker. No one was hit.

Four days later —last Tuesday, Feb. 13 —police officers were patrolling Lower Wacker in response to that shooting and to recent drug sales, authorities say.

About 1:30 p.m., the officers approached Legghette to talk to him.

The officers didn’t have any evidence tying him to the shooting but wanted to see if he knew anything about it, authorities say.

One officer got out of his vehicle, announced he was a cop and approached Legghette. That’s when Legghette bolted on foot with the police in hot pursuit.

Bauer, who was downtown for a meeting with aldermen at City Hall, saw Legghette running.

The commander jumped out of his car and chased Legghette into the Thompson Center. They struggled in a stairwell and Legghette, who was wearing body armor, shot Bauer six times, according to Cook County prosecutors.Bauer, who was unable to fire his weapon, died at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer

Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer

Provided

Police recovered Legghette’s loaded 9mm handgun, which was equipped with an extended clip of ammunition, according to prosecutors.

Police also recovered small amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana from Legghette, a convicted felon who’s done prison time for armed robbery, illegal gun possession and drug possession over the past two decades, prosecutors said.

Down in Lower Wacker, a homeless man said he saw last Wednesday’s front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, which displayed a photo of Bauer with his daughter, Grace.

Bauer was holding Grace’s hand, and they were smiling.

The homeless man shook his head in grief. They’d met.

“God bless Commander Bauer,” he said.

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