Editorial: State's attorney owes greater review, explanation of misdemeanor charge in teen's death
In a news release last week, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office seemed to suggest that its hands are tied by the law regarding its decision not to file murder charges in the stabbing death of an unarmed Elgin teenager killed last week in Schaumburg.
Well, maybe. But even if so, can it be that no stronger option is available than a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon?
That is the stunning response Cook County's top criminal justice agency has decided to pursue following a violent death captured on a video. The video appears to show 18-year-old Manuel Porties Jr. and another teenager preparing for a fist fight when the unnamed combatant, a 17-year-old minor, produces a knife and stabs him. Porties later died from the injuries.
What message are we in the public -- not to mention Porties' distraught family and friends -- supposed to take from the state's attorney's limited explanation of its decision? That the only thing unlawful when two teenagers fight in the street and one dies is that one of them pulled and used a knife? That attacking someone with a knife in such a situation -- apparently multiple times from the evidence in the video -- is nothing more serious than a minor legal infraction? That a 17-year-old can kill another teenager with no expectation of punishment beyond a simple weapons charge?
That even if two combatants agree to a fight with lethal consequences -- a circumstance that would be called a duel in a far distant, presumably less-conscientious past -- the worst punishment either should face is from producing a weapon?
Such questions are chilling to contemplate.
The state's attorney's office's news release said investigators conducted an "extensive review of the material presented to us" and talked to both Porties' family and Schaumburg police. But their explanations clearly did not ease any tensions or change any minds. Schaumburg police, who originally recommended a murder charge, say their position has not changed, and Porties' father says prosecutors should examine social media exchanges and other evidence that would show his son had been bullied and taunted into the fight by the person who stabbed him. He contends the state's attorney rushed to judgment in settling on the misdemeanor charge, and he wants the office to re-evaluate its position.
To anyone who has seen the video of the fight, such a review seems the least that the office should do, and its outcome should be presented quickly and publicly by State's Attorney Kim Foxx.
This is not an inconsequential case with no bearing on public policy. Indeed, it is quite the opposite. A young man has been killed as a result of a street fight in broad daylight, and it is jaw dropping to consider that his life warrants no greater response than a faint shrug in a news release and an expectation that something like justice can be found in a misdemeanor charge against his assailant.
The official response to the teenager's death is fraught with questions and disturbing implications. Foxx's office owes both his family and the public at large a much more detailed review and a much better explanation of the message the criminal justice system is sending.