Chicago cops wounded, accused shooter walks
The most dangerous place for a Chicago police officer is:
a. Face-to-face with a heavily armed drug gang.
b. Trapped by gangbangers at the end of a dark alley in Englewood.
c. Cornered by some lifers carrying shivs at Stateville prison.
d. Sitting in a Cook County courtroom.
The correct answer is d.
Or at least it was last Friday.
That is when the man in the mug shot was allowed to go home, after being found not guilty of shooting and trying to kill two Chicago police officers.
You didn't hear anything about the trial, maybe because the cops were just wounded and survived the July 2009 shooting. It probably attracted little attention because the case should have been a lock for prosecutors.
The guy's name is Kenneth Green. He was 21 years old at the time and living in an apartment near 112th Street and Michigan Avenue in Roseland.
A special Chicago police team raided his place with a search warrant for drugs. Imagine one of those scenes on the copper TV shows: doors fly open, guns out, lots of yelling. They are among the riskiest moments in any police officer's life.
On that day two years ago, veteran officers Scott McKenna and Danny O'Toole were on the warrant team doing what they had done many times. The police team bursts in and spreads out, clearing the apartment room by room to make sure the search for drugs can safely begin.
Rarely do these "jobs," as the police refer to them, go as planned. It takes incredible awareness, split-second reactions and extraordinary judgment. The wrong decision can mean people end up dead.
In his report, Officer O'Toole described having seen children in the kitchen of the apartment just as the police team rushed in. O'Toole and McKenna moved through the kitchen and came to a closed door on the left. As they kicked it open there were gunshots. Bullets came through the door, fired from the other side, hitting them both in their legs.
Then-police Supt. Jody Weis said at the time that the two gunmen in that room were shooting wildly through the door hoping to stop the Chicago police officers before they could get in.
The wounded officers returned fire and took cover on a porch, according to the evidence. Witnesses told police they heard as many as 20 gunshots.
When the gun smoke had cleared, O'Toole reported that he found the accused shooter -- Kenneth Green, a reported gang member -- hiding behind a file cabinet in that room. Green's brother was nearby. Both men were arrested, unharmed.
"These were guys who were going to fight their way out of the situation," O'Toole told a reporter months later. "This could have been a nightmare if a little kid got shot."
Last week, the only nightmare was in Cook County Criminal Court. After being held for more than two years on a high bond, Green went on trial. He was charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery with a gun and one count of drug possession.
According to those who were there, the courtroom was packed with some of Green's fellow gangbangers. They weren't in court because of some sudden interest in civics and criminal justice. Their presence was to intimidate, which is what they are very good at doing in neighborhoods, on city streets and in public schools.
They were there to intimidate the 12 jurors hearing the case. And the one civilian witness who was courageous enough to testify.
There were more gang members in the court gallery than there were police officers. Some cops have complained about that. But the way I see it, gang members have nothing better to do. Their only inconvenience was having to get out of bed before noon. Police officers have jobs and were out there pulling shifts, dealing with the transfers and realignment that have been undertaken by new police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
On Friday, despite two wounded cops and overwhelming evidence that the two cops had been shot by Kenneth Green, the trial that attracted no public attention went wrong.
In short order, the 12 jurors who watched the case presented against a backdrop of gang members returned their verdict: not guilty on all counts. Even Judge Carol Howard appeared stunned, according to some onlookers.
Mr. Green, you are free to go.
Justice is supposed to be blind. Not asleep.
"Prosecutors are extremely disappointed with this verdict" said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. "The case was charged and prosecuted based on significant and credible evidence. It is unclear what led the jurors to this decision given the fact that there were inconsistencies in his (Green's) testimony."
"Somebody dropped the ball here," said Pat Camden, spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police. "It is the fault of the state's attorney. If the case isn't presented properly, therein lies the problem. I understand the jury system but what kind of a case did they present? How the hell did a defense attorney convince a jury it was self-defense?"
Late Sunday, State's Attorney Alvarez' spokeswoman fired back: "It is curious that the FOP would blame prosecutors in this case when they were nowhere to be found in the courtroom during the duration of this trial," Daily said. "Whoever is making this outrageous statement has no direct knowledge of the details of this prosecution or the dedicated work that was done by the prosecutors who handled this case.
"The Chicago Police Officers who were actually involved in this case, including the officers who were shot, were thankful and respectful of the state's attorney's prosecution."
In Chicago, things like this do have a way of working out though.
If Mr. Green, now 23, resumes the same line of work that he was in before his arrest, he may well have police visitors in his home sometime in the future.
Then, if Green starts shooting at police, the 12 people he'll need won't be jurors.
They'll be pallbearers.
• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie.