CHICAGO (CBS) — A war of words between Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Mayor Lori Lightfoot escalated on Tuesday, a day after the mayor called for charges in a shootout in the North Austin neighborhood, saying there is video evidence and officers who witnessed the crime.
However, Foxx on Tuesday reiterated that there is not yet sufficient evidence to file charges in the case, and said top brass at the Chicago Police Department agrees with her assessment of the case, saying it was “inappropriate” for Lightfoot to discuss the facts of the case in public while it remains under investigation.
“I was quite honestly mortified by what happened yesterday, particularly because the mayor, as a former prosecutor, knows that what she did yesterday was inappropriate,” Foxx said.
The dispute stems from a shootout last week in the North Austin neighborhood, which left one person dead and two others wounded. The shootout was witnessed by Chicago police officers, and caught on surveillance video, but no charges have been filed in the case.
“I just want you to know that this is of deep concern to me,” Lightfoot said Monday.
In a letter, Lightfoot and five aldermen urged Foxx to reconsider her decision.
“Having looked at this; gotten a deep understanding from the detectives that were doing the investigation, it’s really hard to understand that decision. It’s complicated for sure. But we really urge the State’s Attorney herself to get personally involved, look at the evidence, and either that there can be charges that can be brought at a minimum against the individuals who initiated the gunfire,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “We can’t live in a world where there’s no accountability – where there’s no accountability, meaning individuals who wreak havoc, who fire indiscriminately, or fire at a target but without any regard to the sanctity of life and the health and wellbeing of others – if they do not feel like the criminal justice system is going to hold them accountable, we’re going to see a level of brazenness that will send this city into chaos. And we cannot let that happen. We simply cannot let that happen.”
The mayor said there is video evidence, and pointed out that uniformed police officers witnessed the gunfight. She reiterated that she believes at minimum, those who initiated the gunfight must be prosecuted, but said those in the house who fired many rounds back have to be evaluated for prosecution as well.
However, Foxx contended Lightfoot’s statements about the evidence in the case “simply weren’t true,” and said that, as a former federal prosecutor, the mayor should know better than to try the case in the media.
“I find myself here today having to respond to a narrative that was given by the mayor yesterday regarding a case that is still under investigation,” she said. “It was inappropriate. It was wrong. As a prosecutor who understands the oath, and as a former prosecutor, discussing the facts of this case in the press without the benefit of all of the evidence does a disservice to the communities who have been impacted by this violence.”
Foxx also said she was disappointed that Lightfoot did not reach out to her directly with her concerns about the case before criticizing her in public.
“She didn’t pick up the phone and raise those concerns with me to get a full accounting of what happened in this case,” Foxx said.
She said the shootout remains under investigation, and her office is prepared to bring charges if and when there is sufficient evidence to make an arrest.
“We will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure that the necessary work is done, so that we may bring charges and ultimately secure a conviction for those who engage in the violence that we’ve seen across this city,” she said.
Foxx also suggested that Lightfoot’s statements about the case on Monday could compromise a potential prosecution in the future, should evidence warrant charges down the line.
“I want to end trying cases in the media. At the end of the day, the statements that were made yesterday that were not factually accurate, should this case be ready for charging, may pose potential issues. Nobody wants that, not for a political stunt, not for a press hit,” she said. “There’s a shootout in Austin. Our number one concern should be about getting those people prosecuted, not a headline diverting attention away from the fact that we have not had comprehensive plans in mind.”
Chicago Police said around 10:30 a.m. Friday, 25th (Grand Central) District tactical officers responded to a call of a man with a gun near Potomac and Mason avenues. When they arrived on the scene, they saw four people get out of two cars in front of a home in the 1200 block of North Mason Avenue, and start shooting at the house.
People inside the home returned fire, shooting one of the attackers, as other assailants fled the scene in the two vehicles.
The assailant who was shot was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Two people who were wounded inside the home also went to the hospital, but their conditions were not available.
One of the vehicles that fled the scene was later found burned out near Lockwood and Chicago avenues. The second vehicle that fled the scene crashed in Oak Park near Austin Boulevard and Harrison Street. Oak Park police said the driver ran off after crashing, but was arrested in the 700 block of Lyman Avenue, with the help of Chicago Police and a canine unit.
Police said two other people were taken into the custody of Area Five detectives before they were eventually all released.
Foxx said that, just because there might be video evidence in a specific case does not mean there is sufficient evidence to charge someone.
“We can’t just try cases on videos. We need witnesses to come forward,” Foxx said. “In order for us to bring charges in a case, it’s not simply we saw a video of something happen. We need to be able to say that the person who we arrested and charged is the same person who engaged in the act.”
She said that means prosecutors need a witness who can testify that the person being arrested and charged is the same person seen committing a crime on video.
Foxx also noted that Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan twice on Monday acknowledged that police agreed there was not sufficient to bring charges in the case, even for simple firearms offenses.
At a police budget hearing on Monday, Deenihan told aldermen that video evidence doesn’t clearly show who was firing weapons during the shooting, and the people in custody aren’t cooperating with detectives, so police can’t determine who was shooting, much less who started it.
“We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to build the strongest cases possible, not just for arrest, but for conviction, to hold those who cause harm accountable,” Foxx said.
Foxx said, despite the crisis of gun violence in Chicago, prosecutors “cannot cut corners” to bring charges in any specific case. She also noted that Cook County has been the source of the most wrongful convictions in the country because of an “anything goes” approach to criminal cases in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We cannot play games. We must operate as the professionals that we are, and that means as prosecutors we don’t engage on the facts and the evidence in the case in the media. And we would expect that our partners, especially those who served as prosecutors, would recognize that, and more importantly in engaging in that will tell the truth,” she said.
Foxx also mentioned concerns about cases coming from Area Five detectives, and said her office has had conversations with Supt. David Brown about it.
She said she would like to have a meeting with Lightfoot, Brown, and Area Five detectives “so that we can have a common understanding that is not filtered through press or leaks to discuss the concerns that have been raised out of a number of cases that have come out of Area Five.”
The mayor is expected to respond to Foxx’s comments during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.