Homeless man beaten at subway stop died of drug overdose; ‘stress’ of attack listed as secondary cause

CTA employee Emmett Richardson has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of aggravated battery in connection to the March 25 attack captured on surveillance cameras.

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Beginning Sunday, the CTA will begin the first phase of the Forest Park Branch Rebuild.

Kevin Powell, 54, who was homeless, died after a beating at a stop on the CTA’s Blue Line in March.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

A drug overdose was the primary cause of death for a homeless man who was brutally beaten at a downtown subway station, allegedly by a CTA worker, with the “stress” of the attack listed as a secondary cause.

Kevin Powell, 54, was beaten for about an hour and shoved down sets of stairs after he was found sleeping on a wheelchair early March 25 at the La Salle Street Blue Line stop at 150 W. Congress Parkway.

CTA employee Emmett Richardson, 39, was soon arrested and charged with felony counts of aggravated battery in the attack.

Autopsy results now show that Powell’s primary cause of death was an overdose from a dangerous mix of drugs, including heroin, cocaine, two types of fentanyl and xylazine, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Fentanyl now contributes to the vast majority of Cook County’s opioid deaths, which have risen to record levels in recent years. At the start of this year, the medical examiner’s office reported that the number of those deaths could surpass 2,000 once all autopsy testing had been completed, likely surpassing the record set the previous year.

Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, is also a growing problem. A WBEZ review of county records showed the substance contributed to at least 161 overdose deaths in Cook County last year, a 46% jump from 2021. In April, the White House declared xylazine “an emerging threat to the United States” when combined with fentanyl.

On the morning of the attack, Richardson told emergency personnel that he had seen Powell surrounded by drug paraphernalia and believed he had overdosed, Cook County prosecutors said at Richardson’s bail hearing.

But prosecutors also said that Powell never tried to defend himself as Richardson carried out the lengthy beating, captured by surveillance cameras. Powell was pronounced dead at the scene after being punched, dragged around the station and pushed down flights of stairs.

Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto remarked that Powell was treated “like so much garbage.”

Judge Barbara Dawkins said the beating “shocks the conscience,” pointing to the “extremely violent nature of the attack” March 28, when she set Richardson’s bail at $3 million.

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how he died,” Dawkins said. “But, I mean, I’m not a medical examiner, so I’m gonna stay in my lane.”

Richardson was indicted last month and since had his bail reduced to $100,000. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated battery and remains held at the Cook County Jail.

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