Five men linked to a deadly gang-related shootout Friday in Austin were released from custody after prosecutors declined to charge each of them with a pair of felonies, including first-degree murder, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
The brazen mid-morning gunfight, which left one shooter dead and two of the suspects wounded, stemmed from an internal dispute between two factions of the Four Corner Hustlers street gang, according to an internal police report and a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation.
The source said police sought to charge all five suspects with murder and aggravated battery. By Sunday morning, a Chicago police spokeswoman acknowledged the suspects had “been released without charges.”
In a statement later Sunday, Cristina Villareal, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, explained that prosecutors had “determined that the evidence was insufficient to meet our burden of proof to approve felony charges.” Police officials agreed with the decision, Villareal added.
While she wouldn’t specify what other evidence prosecutors needed to file charges, the police report acknowledged that victims of the shootout weren’t cooperating with investigators.
But the report also framed the state’s attorney’s office’s decision to decline charges in a different light: “Mutual combatants was cited as the reason for the rejection.” Mutual combat is a legal term used to define a fight or struggle that two parties willingly engage in.
Last week, Cook County prosecutors came under fire after reportedly making a similar argument after a teenager was stabbed to death during a fight in Schaumburg. The family of the victim, 18-year-old Manuel Porties Jr., later told WGN that prosecutors specifically said they weren’t charging the 17-year-old suspect with murder because the fatal fight amounted to mutual combat.
Meanwhile, as the city grapples with a spate of rolling shootouts that have erupted over the past week, the law enforcement source raised concerns that the rejection could encourage more brash violence. Much like those shootouts, the narrative of Saturday’s gun battle in Austin was reminiscent of an action movie scene.
“It’s just like the Wild West,” the source said of the exchange of gunfire in the violence-plagued neighborhood on the West Side.
About 10:30 a.m., two Dodge Chargers driven by members of the Body Snatchers faction of the Four Corner Hustlers drove to the 1200 block of North Mason Avenue and exchanged words with members of the gang’s Jack Boys set, according to the source and the police report.
After circling the block and coming back, at least three individuals jumped out of the Chargers and began to shoot into a brick house using handguns equipped with “switches” that made the weapons fully automatic, noted the source and report. Members of the Jack Boys who were inside the home then began firing back.
Two of the Body Snatchers were left wounded, including an unidentified 32-year-old man who was later pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the report and the Cook County medical examiner’s office. A 29-year-old man aligned with the Jack Boys was also struck.
While the source confirmed that more than 70 shell casings were found outside the home, that likely doesn’t reflect the number of shots that were fired from inside.
The gunfight, which was caught on a police POD camera, came to a halt when a police cruiser pulled up to the block, according to the report and the source. The Body Snatchers then fled in the Chargers, leaving their fatally wounded accomplice behind.
One of the cars was later “found engulfed in flames nearby,” the report states. The other was used to drop off the non-fatal gunshot victim at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, where it was later spotted by local police.
During a brief chase, the 20-year-old driver crashed and he was taken into custody, according to the source and the report. An AK-47 assault rifle was found in the car, though police don’t believe it was used in the shooting.
Both Chargers were likely stolen, according to the source, who said one car had a “dealer plate” and the other had no license plates at all.
Those affiliated with the Jack Boys, meanwhile, refused to leave the home on Mason, causing a standoff that required a SWAT team to respond, the source said.
Police looked to charge three Jack Boys who were eventually taken into custody, including the man who was shot, the source said. Investigators also sought charges against two members of the Body Snatchers — the driver who crashed the Charger and the 20-year-old man he took to West Suburban.
The Sun-Times isn’t naming the suspects because they haven’t been charged with any crime.
Detectives wanted to charge the Body Snatchers affiliates with the killing of their slain accomplice under Illinois’ controversial felony murder rule, which allows a defendant to be convicted of first-degree murder if they commit certain felonies that ultimately lead to another person’s death.
The rule was recently curtailed in the sweeping criminal justice reform bill signed in February by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but attorneys on Sunday agreed the gang members could still potentially be charged under the revised language.