Austin shootout investigation moves forward despite heated Foxx-Lightfoot meeting
Evidence still being processed in the case could potentially lead to charges against two alleged members of the Body Snatchers, sources said.
An investigation into a brazen and deadly shootout in Austin described as being “like the wild west” is still continuing despite charges in the case initially having been rejected by Cook County prosecutors.
That rejection earlier this month spurred a public feud between State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Mayor Lori Lightfoot last week, with Lightfoot saying the city could descend into “chaos” if Foxx didn’t hold the suspects accountable and revealing she had reached out to federal prosecutors to go around the state’s attorney’s office for charges.
Foxx responded she was “mortified” that Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, discussed the case publicly and said Lightfoot wasn’t telling the truth about the strength of the evidence detectives brought to her office.
Little was accomplished during a private meeting last week between Lightfoot, Foxx, Police Supt. David Brown and Chief of Detectives Brian Deenihan, except possibly a halt to the public back-and-forth between the two women.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Lausch confirmed earlier this week the mayor had called about the shooting but declined to comment further. However, no one from the U.S attorney’s office has reached out to the county, sources in the state’s attorney’s office said, who added they believed it was unlikely federal officials would take on the case.
Foxx’s office has faced criticism multiple times in recent months for rejecting charges in high-profile cases, including the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Manuel Porties in Schaumburg and separate Northwest Side shootings that killed 19-year-old National Guard member Chris Carvajal and 7-year-old Serenity Broughton.
Serenity’s case made headlines after police were so frustrated by Foxx’s office, they filed charges against a suspect themselves. But hours later top police officials reversed course and had a judge rescind them.
On Wednesday, prosecutors filed murder charges against the original suspect, Aireon Luster, who was ordered held without bail Thursday.
As in some of the previous cases, prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence to take the Austin shootout to court. But in that case, police brass and prosecutors were in agreement the murder and attempted murder charges sought by detectives wouldn’t stick — and told the mayor so at the meeting, a source familiar with what transpired said.
“Everyone shared with the mayor that there is no evidence that was presented to the state’s attorney that allows for charging — even a gun possession charge,” the source said.
“The state’s attorney turned to Brown and said,‘Superintendent, could I charge on this case?’ Brown said,‘No.’ She turned to Deenihan [and said],‘Could I charge on this case?’ And Deenihan said,‘No,’” the source said.
Sources said Lightfoot appeared to not have been “fully informed” about aspects of the investigation and “made assumptions” based on information that leaked to the media after the case rejection.
Foxx was clearly frustrated with the mayor during the meeting and accused Lightfoot of repeatedly making false statements about the case, including that police could tell from the video who shot first, sources said.
After the meeting the two women issued separate statements pledging to work together to reduce violence. The mayor’s office declined to comment further on the meeting this week.
The gunfight happened the morning of Oct. 1 when two Dodge Chargers driven by members of the Body Snatchers faction of the Four Corner Hustlers drove to the 1200 block of North Mason Avenue and exchanged words with members of the gang’s Jack Boys set, the Sun-Times previously reported. That led to an exchange of gunfire.
A 32-year-old member of the Body Snatchers faction was left dead and two others involved were wounded. Police recovered more than 70 shell casings in the block.
While the melee was partially captured by a police POD surveillance camera, sources in the state’s attorney’s office said it would have been impossible to prove who initiated the violent exchange.
Those involved in the shootout have so far refused to help investigators.
Detectives initially sought murder and attempted murder charges against five suspects in the case.
Prosecutors said there wasn’t evidence to support those charges but asked police if they could provide gunshot residue or fingerprints that might connect the alleged shooters to guns that were later recovered for potential weapons charges, sources said.
Prosecutors were told by detectives at that time they believed that testing for gunpowder and fingerprints was “futile” and deemed the request the same as “a rejection,” sources said. They told prosecutors “they were done with their investigation,” sources said.
However a law enforcement source said they believed they had presented enough evidence for possession of a stolen motor vehicle or unlawful use of a weapon charges and went to prosecutors to get the suspects locked up as soon as possible.
“We already had enough to charge, and for such violent offenders traditionally the urgency to get them off the street meant something,” the law enforcement source said.
Indeed, in the meeting Oct. 7 where Foxx and Lightfoot were present, police officials told the group that the additional evidence was still being processed. Although there was a “rush” put on analysis of the evidence collected after the shootout and sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab, the results aren’t back yet, the law enforcement source said.
That police had already made arrests also complicated prosecutors’ options at the time cops initially went to them.
“If you make an arrest, the clock starts ticking” on how long you can hold someone without charging, a source with the state’s attorney’s office said.
The suspects were subsequently let go.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the case, saying only that the investigation is ongoing.
Could charges be forthcoming?
But the evidence still being processed could potentially lead to charges against two alleged members of the Body Snatchers, sources said.
Investigators still expect the driver of a stolen Charger that fled the scene and later crashed in Oak Park after the shooting will face felony charges, because multiple guns were found inside the car, including an assault-style rifle, according to the law enforcement source.
That person could potentially be charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, that source said.
Another man that suspect dropped off at a hospital in Oak Park could also face similar gun-related charges, if his prints are detected on one of the weapons that were found and ballistic evidence at the scene matches, the source added.
“We’re still perfectly able to ask for charges again when new evidence comes in, and likely will,” the source said.
Contributing: Jon Seidel