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River North hotel worker claims self defense in stabbing of New York City firefighter

Cook County prosecutors and defense attorney Matthew Kaplan painted two very different pictures of the altercation that unfolded Thursday afternoon at the FOUND Hotel.

Cook County Criminal Courts, 2601 S. California Blvd.
Cook County Criminal Courts, 2601 S. California Blvd.
Sun-Times file

A River North hotel clerk was defending himself when he stabbed a New York City firefighter multiple times earlier this week, the clerk’s defense attorney said Saturday.

Cook County prosecutors and defense attorney Matthew Kaplan painted two very different pictures of the altercation that unfolded Thursday afternoon at the FOUND Hotel, 613 N. Wells St.

Joel Brown, who is charged with attempted murder, was behind the front desk when the 29-year-old firefighter and two others tried to check into a room the group said they had reserved, prosecutors and Kaplan said during a bond hearing.

Brown and a witness got into an argument when Brown couldn’t provide the guests access to a room. The firefighter intervened and asked to speak to Brown.

Prosecutors allege Brown challenged the firefighter to a fight before the two went off to a nearby kitchen area to speak. Kaplan accused the firefighter of going behind the front desk and dragging Brown to the kitchen.

The firefighter asked Brown to apologize to his fiancée, both sides said. Prosecutors said Brown punched the firefighter, though Kaplan claimed the firefighter struck first.

The fight intensified from there. The firefighter, who Kaplan said is “approximately a half a foot taller than my client and much larger in stature and size,” allegedly tackled Brown to the ground. A witness kicked Brown and told him to stop, prosecutors said.

Brown ordered the firefighter’s group to get out of the hotel, allegedly throwing their luggage at them. The firefighter threw the items back at the hotel clerk, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors allege Brown grabbed a knife from behind the desk and approached another person in the group. The firefighter went to the person’s defense and was stabbed six times on the left side of his body, according to authorities.

But Kaplan claimed Brown grabbed the knife from a drawer behind the front desk when he was “on his back being battered.”

Kaplan said Brown initially called 911 when the group of New Yorkers refused to leave. Brown called 911 a second time after the stabbing to dispatch paramedics.

Brown stayed at scene until Chicago police officers arrived, both sides said. The firefighter was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in good condition.

Kaplan said the self-defense claim is corroborated by a video recording from the hotel and a CBS 2 report that featured witnesses’ accounts.

Brown, a Kenwood Academy grad, is studying audio engineering at Columbia College, Kaplan said. He’s worked at FOUND Hotel for the past six months.

A judge set bail at $75,000 for Brown. He’s expected back in court Sept. 27.