Kim Foxx defends reforms, calls for focus on data amid Cook County’s surge in violent crime

The Cook County state’s attorney also said she will have much to say about Jussie Smollett after the actor is sentenced on Thursday.

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Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks during the “State of the State’s Attorney’s Office” address at the Union League Club of Chicago in March 4.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx speaks during the “State of the State’s Attorney’s Office” address at the Union League Club of Chicago in the Loop, Friday morning, March 4, 2022, where Foxx talked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state’s attorney’s office, restorative justice, wrongful convictions and the work that her office is doing. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Despite two years of surging violence, Cook County must continue criminal justice reform rather than revert to policy solutions based on fear of crime, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said during a “state of the State’s Attorney’s Office” address at the Union League Club on Friday.

Foxx, whose office has been the frequent target of barbed comments from Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police officials who blame lenient sentencing and reduced bail amounts for a murder rate that has nearly doubled since 2019, recalled her youth in the Cabrini-Green public housing project during the 1970s and ‘80s.

Foxx said she and her family hid in the bathtub when shots rang out, a frequent occurrence during years when the city last saw murder totals as high as the 800-plus killings recorded in 2021.

“(That’s) why we have had the benefit over the course of the last 30 years to look at what we’ve done at the times when violence was high before, and to not make the mistakes of the past,” Foxx said. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s when we were trying to wrap our arms around the violence in our communities, not just here in Chicago, but nationally, we saw the institution of some horrific criminal justice policies that devastated and had intergenerational impacts on the same communities that are seeing violence today.”

Foxx touted the public database on criminal cases built by her office not long after her election. Foxx had won in 2015 running on a reform platform, beating incumbent Anita Alvarez, who was battling fallout from the murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The office approved charges in 86% of felony cases, winning conviction 75% of the time in 2021, numbers higher than or on par with earlier years of her administration. The office approved charges in 92% of gun cases.

Foxx also touted more than 100 convictions her office has vacated after finding the cases were built on evidence and testimony from officers under the command of corrupt former CPD sergeant Ronald Watts, sentenced to prison in 2012 for shaking down a federal informant for cash. Taking accountability for past abuses by police and prosecutors is critical to increasing public trust in the criminal justice system, Foxx said.

During a question-and-answer session with reporters after her remarks, Foxx clapped back at questions about her handling of the criminal case against Jussie Smollett — the former “Empire” star set to be sentenced next week for faking a 2019 hate crime attack outside his Streeterville apartment.

Smollett’s case became a tabloid phenomenon almost immediately after the actor reported he had been attacked by two men. Smollett later was charged with faking the assault, and press attention only intensified after Foxx’s office dropped those charges only weeks after his arrest.

The case has dogged Foxx for years, with a special prosecutor appointed to investigate Smollett and the office issuing a report that found Foxx lied to the public repeatedly about why the case was abandoned. The investigation found no criminal conduct, though Special Prosecutor Dan Webb concluded Foxx or her staff committed “substantial abuses of discretion” in disposing of Smollett’s case.

Smollett eventually was charged again, and found guilty. He will be sentenced Thursday.

Friday, Foxx said her priority in 2019 and now was violent crime, and urged reporters to look at data on how the office handled non-violent offenses. Webb’s report stated he could find no cases in which a defendant had gotten a similar deal to the one struck with Foxx’s office.

Foxx said she would have plenty to say about the case once Smollett is sentenced, though she said she’s already explained her actions to the public and those answers are “dissatisfying because it’s dissatisfying.”

“What I’m gonna do is respect that Mr. Smollett is going to be sentenced next week and respect his right as a defendant to have his day in court and I can assure you that I will have a lot more to say once that has happened,” Foxx said, adding that she would be happy to answer questions about the wrongful convictions prosecuted by the office in past decades and non-Smollett topics and finally closing the book on the case.

“I’ll be glad to sit down ad nauseam ... and talk about what it is in these communities that have been impacted by actual violence, what they feel about the attention that has been given to (Smollett’s) case, and not the solving of homicides in their neighborhoods,” Foxx said. “You say the time and place and we can talk about it.”

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