Suspect in killing of Officer Ella French was out of jail despite being charged in April with serious hit-and-run while on probation for robbery
Authorities had sought to find him in violation of his probation, but a hearing that could have put him in jail was not scheduled until Aug. 10 — three days after French was killed.
The physician was shocked to see Emonte Morgan’s face in the paper, accused of fatally shooting a Chicago police officer and critically wounding another during a traffic stop in West Englewood.
She last saw him four months earlier, driving a white van that slammed into a man in a Loop crosswalk, breaking the windshield and sending the pedestrian flying against a stop sign, never stopping until hitting a parked car nearly a mile and a half way, according to a police report.
She wondered why he wasn’t in jail instead of being on the street the night Officer Ella French was killed.
“It’s pretty incredible that they let him go,” said the physician, who only wanted to be identified by her first name Diane, for fear of retribution. “That might have been able to have been prevented if he wasn’t let back out.”
Morgan had been on probation for a robbery in Old Town at the time, and a petition had been filed to find him in violation, which could have sent him to jail. But a hearing to resolve the issue had not been held yet.
A judge had decided to give authorities some time to track down and notify Morgan. He set the hearing for this past Tuesday, three days after authorities say Morgan shot French and her partner.
‘He was in bad shape’
The hit-and-run happened on a warm evening on April 9. Diane said she was biking home after a swim around 9:15 p.m. when she saw a Dodge Caravan swerving in and out of lanes in the 1300 block of Wells Street.
“This guy is gonna kill someone,” Diane said she thought to herself. “I’ve never seen anyone drive so recklessly in my life.”
Moments later, she heard a “terrible” sound and saw a man being thrown from the van’s windshield and against a stop sign. The van didn’t stop.
Diane said she hopped off her bike and sat with the man until police and paramedics arrived.
“He was in bad shape, I mean that was just terrible head trauma,” she said. “I was telling him not to move because if there was any kind of spinal cord damage, I didn’t want him to make it worse.”
The man was taken to Northwestern in serious but stable condition, the police report states.
Morgan kept driving until he hit a parked car in the 900 block of North Cambridge Avenue, according to the report. He got out of the Caravan and tried to run away, but he was stopped by a security guard.
Police officers responded and took Morgan into custody. He told investigators that the crash on Wells occurred because he was arguing with his brother over the phone and became distracted, the report states.
He was charged with driving without a license, operating an uninsured vehicle and leaving the scene of an accident, according to police. The most serious charge was a misdemeanor, and Morgan was released from custody the next day on a personal recognizance bond.
Diane said she looked up details of the accident hoping to find out if the man survived his injuries. That’s when she learned Morgan had been released a day after his arrest.
This week, she saw that Morgan was charged with killing French and severely wounding her partner last Saturday night. His brother, Eric Morgan, was also charged in the attack.
“I was in utter disbelief and felt sadness for her family,” Diane said.
No felony charges sought
Police did not ask prosecutors to consider felony charges in the hit-and-run, instead filing misdemeanor charges and citations directly and sending the case to Traffic Court, according to Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
Chicago police declined to provide further information about the decision. Asked whether the police knew Morgan was on probation and why felony charges were not sought, a spokesperson said, “We do not have that information at this time.”
Court records show Morgan appeared for his first hearing on May 7. The case was continued to July 22, then continued again to Aug. 27.
The first opportunity for prosecutors to review the charges in the case would have been at Morgan’s first hearing, Simonton said. Prosecutors can seek to upgrade or add new charges after getting the case, and do so “on a case-by-case basis,” Simonton said. “It all needs to be reviewed.”
It was unclear if authorities were aware of Morgan’s probation at that initial hearing.
On May 18, the Cook County Adult Probation Department filed a petition in court, saying Morgan had violated his probation in the robbery case with the new arrest in the hit-and-run.
A judge set a hearing on the petition for Aug. 10, giving authorities time to “re-notify” Morgan of the hearing and have him appear in court, according to court records.
On Aug. 7, around 9 p.m., police say Morgan, his brother and a woman were in a car that was stopped by French and two other officers for expired plates. Eric ran from the car, but Emonte struggled with one of the officers, police said.
As French went to help her partner, Emonte allegedly turned and shot both of them, police said. A third officer on the scene then shot Emonte, and he remains at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
As for the original petition to find Morgan in violation of his probation, it was superseded by one that cited the shooting of the officers.
Diane said she took the crash back in April personally because her mother was involved in a hit-and-run not long ago and no one was charged. She wants hit-and-runs to be taken as seriously as carjackings or other crimes.
“People who do things like this, injure people and just are able to drive away without thinking twice, what else are these people up to?” she asked.