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Mitchell: Mother frustrated that son’s killer four years ago still hasn’t been caught

Updated: September 9, 2013 3:00PM

Tonya Burch, the mother of a 2009 homicide victim recalled a conversation she once had with an officer at the Wentworth Police Station when she stopped by to speak with a detective.

“Do they know you are coming?” Burch said a desk officer asked.

“No,” Burch said.

“OK, give me a few minutes,” Burch said she was told.

“I stood there about 30 minutes. I stood there for a few more minutes, maybe five. I literally ended up standing there for an hour,” Burch said.

“I was upset. The last I knew, a few minutes was a minute or two or maybe five. They need a people skills class. They treat the victim’s family like we are the criminals,” she said.

You’ll have to forgive Burch for showing her frustration.

Burch’s son, Deontae Smith, was gunned down at an unauthorized street party at 61st and Green on Aug. 1, 2009. Two girls got into a fight and someone fired shots. Smith was shot in the back as he was leaving the area. Despite a $10,000 reward, no one has come forward with any information that would lead to an arrest.

Since the homicide, Burch has gone door-to-door handing out fliers. She also paid to have three billboards put up in Englewood, appeared in a YouTube video and was featured on a segment of “America’s Most Wanted.”

There were 453 homicides in 2009. About 70 percent of those killings were unsolved, according to police.

Burch’s mission is to make sure her son’s murder is not forgotten.

“Chicago Police detectives work tirelessly to solve every murder,” Adam Collins, the spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, told me.

“We investigate every murder with the same thoroughness — whether it happened last week or last year.”

Collins said “detectives are continuing the investigation and communication with Smith’s family.” In 2010, police recovered the weapon that was used in the murder. But a photo lineup that included the person who was caught with the gun “yielded negative results,” he said.

Still, Burch’s complaint is worth noting because it shows the depth of distrust some citizens have of police, even in situations where the police department is the only place they can turn for help.

Unfortunately, the perception persists that police do not aggressively pursue suspects in homicides when the shootings occur in low-income areas of the city.

In fact, just recently, state Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) made a wacky statement about the city’s unsolved murders:

“There’s some suspicion … they suspect that police are killing some of these kids,” Davis said in a radio interview.

Obviously, that kind of talk can be filed away under nonsense.

But claims, such as those made by Sonia Antolec, a former prosecutor with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, reinforce these negative perceptions about police.

For instance, Antolec told the Chicago Sun-Times she was demoted and suspended without pay for three days because she dropped charges against eight girls accused of mugging a mother and her daughter on a CTA Red Line train in April.

The prosecutor said the case “fell apart” when she learned “police had lined the girls up against a wall with their backs facing the victims.”

Collins, the spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, disputed Antolec’s version of the facts. He said the “victims identified the defenders by face with officers,” and that “proper procedures” were followed.

But many of the people in Burch’s situation believe they have to be vigilant if they want justice for their loved ones.

Their murdered sons and daughters may not have been honor students or rising stars, but their lives mattered to the people who loved them. Even worse, this unsolved murder means the killer is likely still boldly walking around the neighborhood.

A couple of days before the anniversary of her son’s death, Burch said she called the two new detectives that have been assigned to the investigation to let them know she would be out on the street releasing balloons and passing out fliers.

“I didn’t get a chance to talk to them,” she said. “The person at the desk said they were out.

“Could I let them know what this is in regards to ma’am?” Burch said she was asked.

“Homicide,” she said.

“It was like, click. He didn’t even offer me the voice mail.”


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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