Ride-along: No murders, one shooting makes it a ‘good day’ in Englewood
By MARK KONKOL, FRANK MAIN and KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporters September 22, 2012 1:06AM
Chicago PoliceTactical Unit officer Matt Mackowiak (left) and Toriano Clinton detain a suspicious subject near a liquor store at 69th and Ashland in Chicago, Illinois, Saturday, August 25, 2012. The man quickly walked away from a crowd loitering on the corner as the police unit rolled up and then ducked into a liquor store where he was detained. After running his ID he was released. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 24, 2012 6:24AM
Toriano Clinton rolls up to a curbside memorial for a dead gang member and slows his SUV.
“Hey, Pretty Boy,” a middle-aged drug dealer calls to the plainclothes Englewood District cop.
Clinton smiles, even though he hates the nickname.
“Everything cool, cuz?” he says.
The dealer nods.
Throughout his shift on this hot summer night, Clinton will go through the same exchange a dozen times.
Police work in one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods isn’t only about chasing the bad guys and locking them up.
It’s also about connecting with the people you see every day — even the bad guys.
It’s about being seen.
It’s about doing the mundane things that police Supt. Garry McCarthy is counting on to keep shootings and other serious crimes from happening in the first place: Shooing loiterers off the street corners. Busting up sidewalk dice games. Clearing teenagers out of raucous house parties.
After 11 years in Englewood, Clinton knows the complicated patchwork of gang boundaries and the bosses who control the street crime.
On the street, the crooks and sweet old ladies alike recognize Clinton by his good looks. He’s linebacker-buff with a movie-star smile and dreadlocks tied back in a ponytail that bounces behind him as he moves.
“I’ve built a rapport with a lot of gang members,” he says. “They’ll give me information.”
The one he called “cuz?”
“I arrested that guy before,” he says. “I trust no one, even though our conversation was friendly.”
When McCarthy came in with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the new superintendent disbanded the old specialized units of black-uniformed officers who used to be sent out en masse to hot spots of violence. Instead, McCarthy put his emphasis on beat cops and tactical officers like Clinton.
He boosted their numbers in Englewood, and he is making sure they have up-to-the-minute information on the 100 well-armed gang factions in the district. The goal: to prevent retaliatory shootings.
Englewood’s reputation for violence is well-deserved. This is where three members of Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson’s family were gunned down in 2008 and where Officer Alex Valadez was fatally shot while on duty a year later. More recently, teen rapper Joseph “JoJo” Coleman was killed earlier this month in a drive-by shooting possibly connected to an Internet feud with another rapper.
This year, though, the number of murders in Englewood has plummeted by 30 percent, even as the number of killings citywide is up 27 percent.
On a steamy late-summer weekend, Chicago Sun-Times reporters rode along with three shifts of officers to get an up-close look at what they are doing to try to keep a lid on violent crime in Englewood and to get a glimpse of what they’re up against.
‘Letting them know we’re here’
It’s Aug. 24, and at 6 p.m. the temperature still tops 90 degrees. Clinton and Officer Matt Mackowiak predict it’ll be a bloody night.
“There was a shooting two nights ago,” Mackowiak says. “Four people got shot on a porch. Yesterday, they talked about retaliating.”
From the station at 63rd and Racine, Clinton steers their SUV toward Beat 713.
“We’re scoping out what’s going on,” Clinton says. “And letting them know we’re here.”
Mackowiak’s been on the beat not even two years, but Englewood’s denizens know him. He’s the tall, dark-haired white guy in the Cubs cap. What they probably don’t know: He’s also a former accountant.
“We see the same guys day after day, and we know who they are, they know who we are,” Mackowiak says.
The streets are quiet. Clinton and Mackowiak keep moving. They check in with gang members and drug dealers they see on the streets, run off others for loitering and generally chat up the locals.
At 6:44 p.m., they stop at 57th and Throop, where a pile of empty tequila and vodka bottles honor the memory of shooting victim Damien Richardson, a leader of the Mickey Cobras street gang. Richardson didn’t live far from that pile of bottles. Early on Aug. 9, shooters on bicycles gunned down the 27-year-old gang-banger — the kind of killing that often brings payback around here.
Just before 7 p.m., Clinton and Mackowiak stop by the site of an Aug. 23 shooting in the district’s “East End,” where the Black Disciples are strong. Shots fired from a gangway on 56th Place left four people wounded — three men in their 20s and a 15-year-old boy. A stray bullet went through the door of a woman’s first-floor apartment.
“If the angle was different, she could have been shot,” Mackowiak says.
People linger on a porch that was sprayed with bullets the night before. Clinton nods to them. But there’s no time to chat. The radio crackles with a call for backup.
Clinton hits the gas, flips on his lights and sirens, and in no time his unmarked SUV is topping 60 mph on Marquette. Mackowiak gives the all-clear as they burn through intersections, catching up with a chase that ended with other officers holding a drug suspect in handcuffs.
Clinton points out the swarm of squad cars that converged there. In Englewood, he says, “If you ask for a car, you’re going to get 20.”
On this weekend, there are 70 officers and supervisors working each shift in Englewood. They include officers from other districts who volunteered to work on their day off under an overtime initiative targeting high-crime districts.
Back on patrol, Clinton drives up to a fence at 63rd and Wolcott. It’s freshly covered in the Gangster Disciples’ trademark cobalt blue. The graffiti proclaim that the “Lick Squad,” a gang faction, “Owns This S - - -.”
The urban hieroglyphics pay homage to 20-year-old Divonte Young, a gang member shot dead on Aug. 9. Young had pointed a gun at an officer after shooting at gang rivals, and the officer shot Young in self-defense, police say.
“F.T.P,” the graffiti say: “F - - - the Police.”
Slashed over ‘a boy’
For block after block, Mackowiak and Clinton drive through a sea of boarded-up homes. There were 4,000 of them in the neighborhood at last count — many of them used by gangs as hideouts, by the homeless as shelter and by drug users to “cut dope.”
On 71st, the officers point out a sidewalk “fashion store” where someone is selling clothes displayed on a mannequin.
Near 67th and Marshfield, they drive past the heavily fortified home of an elderly man called Dollar Poppin — his actual name, after he went to court to get it legally changed.
Outside the Caribbean Bar at 69th and Morgan, they stop to shoo away a woman hawking pub grub — hot dogs, fries and nachos — to bar patrons from an unlicensed kitchen tied to a mobile home.
And near 63rd and Ashland, they chat with a 54-year-old homeless man who says he once worked at the Board of Trade. The man sits in the alley in front of a card table with an empty dummy head from a wig shop. The head is tagged with a six-pointed star and Gangster Disciples mottos, including the five Ps, borrowed from sports and business: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
Clinton takes a call from his son, and he talks for a bit, passing along some fatherly advice until the police radio cuts short their conversation.
“I’m the father, and you’re the son,” he says. “I love you.”
It’s 8 p.m., and the dispatcher is saying someone got stabbed at 63rd and Wolcott near the Lick Squad memorial for Divonte Young. The officers arrive to find Sparkle Herrion, 19, who was a friend of Young, covered in blood from a five-inch gash to her face. She’s already in an ambulance.
Clinton and Mackowiak get a tip from a street source that Herrion’s attacker is at a house near 66th and Winchester. On the front lawn, they find a chaotic scene of arguing women.
“I’m going to knock your ass out,” one woman screams at the other.
The woman tells the cops she’s angry because no one there stopped the suspect, Tykia Richardson, from walking over to 63rd and Wolcott to confront Herrion.
The officers find Richardson out back and arrest her, taking care not to bring her back out front, Clinton says, because the other women “would have gone nuts.”
The officers hear that the slashing was “about a boy.” They want prosecutors to charge Richardson with a felony, but she’s charged with a misdemeanor.
“To get aggravated battery, you almost have to kill someone,” Mackowiak says.
‘Give the city the corner tonight?’
The officers drive past 24-hour chicken joints and hair salons and barbershops that specialize in late-night hairdos for a clubbing clientele.
They spot people hanging out in parks, smoking weed in alleys and drinking from plastic cups on the street.
Along 63rd, guys in three-piece suits mingle with teens without shirts in vacant lots transformed into boozy drive-ins.
Dozens of people are gathered at a gas station under a big yellow sign that says, “No Loitering — Police.”
Clinton laughs and says, “They’re drawn to it.”
The officers, like those on every shift, have orders to target at least one person hanging out on corners designated as drug markets and to bust up sidewalk craps games, which often cause disputes over money that can lead to shootings.
Clinton and his partner stop to help officers arrest five men shooting dice and smoking weed.
Later, they stop to frisk a man at 63rd and Ashland, one of six designated drug hot spots in the district. He’s clean, but they document the stop anyway.
Tough-looking guys standing on the street yell to Clinton, “Hey, Pretty Boy.”
He smiles and asks, “Boys, you think you could give the city the corner back tonight?” They respond “a-ight” and walk away.
By 9:30 p.m., not a single person in Englewood has been shot.
‘Lots of cops’
Sgt. Clinton Sebastian’s cop buddies couldn’t believe it three years ago when he said he wanted to be assigned to Englewood after earning the three blue stripes on his white shirt.
“When I asked to work midnights, they really thought I was crazy,” he says after securing an AR-15 rifle and a bag of supplies — gloves, flashlights and tools — in the back of an unmarked SUV to start his shift at 10:01 p.m.
Sebastian, who grew up near Midway Airport, patrols alone. His job is to help keep beat cops safe, make tactical decisions and press his cops to file their paperwork before the morning shift starts. He usually skips dinner breaks and doesn’t stop for coffee.
“It’s hard to fall asleep in Englewood,” he says. “You never know what’s gonna happen.”
At 10:39 p.m., a dispatcher reports a “person with a gun, four men fighting.”
By the time Sebastian arrives at 72nd and Green, female officers are frisking a gaggle of women and searching a car and nearby bushes for a gun. Nothing turns up.
Police Supt. McCarthy is there, talking to supervisors while poking his teeth with a blue-plastic “flossy.”
“Lots of cops, right?” he says, gesturing to the half-dozen cop cars at the scene.
McCarthy is on the streets to evaluate his crime-fighting strategies.
Earlier this year, McCarthy ordered officers across the city to use information from “gang audits” to prevent retaliatory shootings and catch criminals who run away from crime scenes.
The gang audits tell officers “who the victim is, how many associates he has and what gang they’re in conflict with — and they can predict where the retaliation will be,” McCarthy says.
If the victim is a member of the Black P Stones and a gang audit shows they are in conflict with the Four Corner Hustlers, for instance, “we got to go to Four Corner Hustlers turf and try to stop the next shooting,” the superintendent says.
“I think it’s going to be groundbreaking,” he says.
House parties and ‘munchies’
All summer, Englewood District Cmdr. Leo Schmitz has warned his officers about vacant storefronts being rented out on weekends for raging “house parties.” He’s worried about gunfire erupting.
Now, riding in an unmarked squad car, Schmitz loops past a party at 69th and Bishop and calls for a dozen cars to shut it down.
Clinton and Mackowiak had warned people at the party to leave several times earlier that night, but the people kept coming back.
So officers raid the building. They find 200 people, some in their early teens, crowded inside the shuttered store. The scent of marijuana smoke wafts over the street corner as girls in party dresses and boys without shirts are searched for weapons on the way out.
An angry teen scowls at the the cops, then shouts: “Don’t y’all have anything better to do?”
When the scene is clear, Schmitz speaks to the 20 or so officers there.
“Did we find any guns yet?” Schmitz asks. “OK, this thing was going up. It’s going up every week, and we’re gonna stop it. . . . You see any parties, let us know, and we’ll do what we did here.”
Sgt. Sebastian sniffs the marijuana-laced air and jokingly asks if anyone is hungry.
“I think I have the munchies,” he says, laughing.
Shots a part of life
It’s almost midnight, and no one has been shot.
Dispatchers report fights, a robbery on a CTA bus and a call from a man recovering from heart surgery who says his drunken daughter punched him in the mouth. “He told her to get out of his house, or there’s going to be a murder,” the dispatcher says.
The later it gets on nights like this, when the heat drives people out of their homes, the more likely it is that shootings will start.
“Summers, when kids are out later at certain points overnight, they might see someone they’re trying to get,” Schmitz says. “And if they see them, they shoot.”
Just before 2 a.m., the radio blares: “Shots fired.”
Railroad police officers called in the shooting near 55th and Shields, where someone was shot two days earlier.
Six police vehicles arrive. People drinking on a porch yell, “They’re shooting on the next block!”
But no guns are found. That happens a lot.
“It’s as unpredictable as playing the lottery when there’s a call of ‘shots fired,’ ” Sebastian says. “You can get there, and nothing’s going on. Other times, I’ll be on the corner talking to officers and hear, ‘pop, pop, pop, pop,’ and we’ll get no calls. To some people, it’s part of life. They don’t care. They check to see if they are shot, and if they didn’t get hit, they move on.”
After closing time outside the Caribbean Bar, there’s a fistfight between drunken women. A hair weave is left in disarray. But no one’s arrested.
At 3:20 a.m., a 911 caller says a guy with a gun is driving a purple truck. Officers find a man in a purple truck, but no gun.
At 3:28 a.m., a dispatcher reports a bag of chips is stolen from a gas station.
At 3:41 a.m., a man calls 911 to report a woman cut off his penis near 60th and Peoria. At the scene, officers find a man whose only injury is a stab wound to a hand, near his pinky finger. He’s treated for his wound but declines to press charges.
Later, Sebastian checks his in-car computer for calls-for-service waiting to be dispatched.
It’s a list that can be four or five pages long on weekends.
Only three words appear on the screen: “No events exist.”
The radio is silent.
At 5:15 a.m., Sebastian goes back to the station to make sure an officer involved in a minor scuffle turns in his report before the 6 a.m. shift change.
Not long after, the sun rises without a single shooting overnight in Englewood.
Tactical Officers Michael Keeney and Walter Ware start the day shift looking for a 6-foot-7 man suspected of killing his girlfriend the day before.
“He practically cut her head off,” says Keeney, a former North Shore teacher.
They patrol near 72nd and Morgan, driving through alleys — the preferred route of criminals on foot.
“If someone’s carrying a gun or drugs, they’re less likely to be walking down the sidewalk,” Keeney says.
Through most of the morning, they chase off loiterers; stop a suspicious kid on a BMX bike; pull over a man driving a car without brake lights; search for somebody who stole the metal railings from an abandoned house, and check the railroad tracks where gang-bangers often break into boxcars to steal guns, liquor and other loot.
Keeney and Ware stop two teens suspected of smoking marijuana in an alley near 72nd and Green, but there’s no evidence to write a ticket.
At 12:40 p.m., Ware has paperwork to finish, so he’s replaced by Officer Kevin Spisak. An hour later, Keeney and Spisak break up a dice game near 63rd and Wood — about a block from where the police had shot Divonte Young.
One man gets away. While the officers search the others, a gambler recognizes Spisak. “You used to work at Home Depot, right?” the man says.
At 2 p.m., they respond to a shots-fired call at 57th and Bishop. The caller says three armed men are hiding in an abandoned building.
The officers arrive to find the home isn’t abandoned. And the gunmen — if there ever were gunmen — are nowhere to be found.
Then they respond to two calls involving domestic disputes, including a man trying to stop a woman from leaving by jumping onto the hood of her car.
At 3 p.m., Supt. McCarthy is back in Englewood for a news conference about a series of drug busts.
“We’re not winning, we’re not losing — we’re basically treading water,” McCarthy says of the fight against violent crime, before hitting his usual talking points and adding that there isn’t “fairy dust that we can sprinkle to make things better.”
“This is a process. And it’s going to take a long time,” he says.
After McCarthy wraps up, neighbors stop to thank him.
‘About to run out of lives’
About 30 minutes later — at 57th and Hoyne — Johnny Haygood gets shot.
It isn’t the first time.
Haygood has worn a colostomy bag since he was shot five years ago when “someone tried to rob me, and I didn’t have anything for him to take.”
Spisak says he has arrested Haygood for marijuana possession.
At the corner where Haygood was shot, gang factions have been warring. The officers think Haygood’s shooter lives nearby.
They drive to 55th and Winchester — “Winchester Boys” gang turf. They notice how few people are on the street.
“That leads me to believe we know which side’s guilty,” Keeney says.
The bullet hit Haygood in the back and traveled to his shoulder. A week later, Haygood tells a reporter he doesn’t know who fired the shots.
“Everyone went running, and I got hit,” he says.
Haygood’s older brother, Johnny Black, also has survived multiple shootings — the last one on Aug. 13 — and also wears a colostomy bag as a result.
“I’m not like a cat,” Haygood says. “I’m about to run out of lives.”
As their shift comes to an end, Spisak and Keeney talk about how they’ve been to more shootings than they can count. They’ve confronted more gang members, many with goofy street names such as “Big Dookie,” than they can remember. But neither has had to fire his gun.
Keeney says he nearly pulled the trigger once, during a sweep of an abandoned home. He says he was startled by a large figure in the basement — a giant, plush Scooby Doo doll.
“I almost killed Scooby,” he admits. “I would have never lived it down.”
‘Some nights, we hold it’
In all, the three weekend shifts in Chicago’s most notorious police district were like “a Wednesday in February,” a desk sergeant says afterward.
Officers responded to reports of four robberies, one burglary and one stolen car.
They also made three narcotics arrests and responded to 16 batteries, 10 reports of criminal damage, six thefts, two reports of criminal trespass, one sexual assault, one weapons violation, one call of a “deceptive practice,” one liquor-law violation, one offense involving a child and six other reports that didn’t fit any specific category.
There were no murders.
And Haygood was the only gunshot victim.
Cmdr. Schmitz says such relatively quiet nights are a reminder that most people who live in Englewood are good, decent folks.
“They are on our side,” he says. “They come out and say, ‘Thank you.’ . . . The protection of life, that’s what we’re willing to put our lives on the line for.”
The next day, and the day after, and every one after that, his officers again will be out, doing what they do.
“Some nights, we’re busy as hell,” Schmitz says. “And some nights, we hold it. When you go into a battle with the gangs, there’s always a possibility you can get shot. There’ve been a few. . . . We’ve lost people . . . some friends of mine.
“But overnight, on this night, we were really good.”