Two prosecutors suspended in case of man who torched family
BY KIM JANSSEN AND FRANK MAIN Staff Reporters January 15, 2013 7:40PM
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:31AM
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has suspended two prosecutors for failing to approve charges against a man who threatened to torch his kids — then carried out the act just three months later.
Alvarez said the prosecutors were “ultimately responsible” for the decision not to charge Nathaniel Beller after he filled the bathtub at his Cicero home with gasoline and threatened to burn himself and his children to death during a Sept. 9 standoff with police.
Released without charges against the wishes of Cicero Police after the stand-off came to a peaceful end, Beller on Dec. 29 poured accelerant on his girlfriend, daughter and son and lit a fire in his mother’s home on the West Side, police say. Beller, Taniya Johnson and their 4-year-old daughter Neriyah were killed. And Naciere, their now orphaned 9-year-old son, remains in critical condition at Stroger Hospital.
Alvarez described the deaths as “a tragic case.” She said prosecutors in her office have the “awesome responsibility of charging persons with felony crimes” and noted the high volume and complexity of cases they handle, but added “we must be accountable for our actions.”
The 60-day unpaid suspensions she handed a supervisor and an assistant state’s attorney in her office’s felony review section started Monday, a week after the Chicago Sun-Times first detailed how prosecutors apparently mishandled the Beller case.
A spokesman for Alvarez initially said that Beller had not been charged in the September case because Johnson refused to sign a complaint against him, but Alvarez quickly distanced herself from that reasoning, promising a full review.
In a statement issued Tuesday, she said there remain “many other questions to be answered by other agencies involved in this matter” — a possible reference to Cicero Police’s decision not to file misdemeanor charges against Beller, and to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who placed the children in the care of a foster parent following Beller’s September threat.
The foster parent is under investigation by DCFS for neglect. She may also have violated a family court judge’s order by allowing Beller unsupervised contact with his children the night he set them on fire.