Lake County murder charges are shocking, say parents of one of 5 teens
The parents of one of five teenagers arrested after a shooting in Lake County said they are shocked and anguished their son and the others were charged with murder when none fired the gun.
"I feel terrible," said Curtis Dawson Sr., the father of 16-year-old Curtis Dawson Jr. "They are charging him with murder as if he was the one pulling the trigger. That's just crazy. That's unbelievable."
"I am not going to say my son is a saint but this ..." said the teen's mother Tiffany Williams. "He's going to spend the rest of his life in jail for something he didn't do. I have been crying a lot."
Authorities said Curtis Jr. was part of a group of six teens, all from Chicago, who wanted to burglarize a 75-year old man's car at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday in his driveway in Old Mill Creek. The man told authorities he confronted the teens and one of them came toward him with an object in his hand. The man fired a gun and struck 14-year-old Jaquan Swopes, who later died. A 10-inch Bowie-style knife was later recovered from the driveway, authorities said.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he made "the tough decision"to approve felony murder charges for the five teens.
"Ultimately, it's clear these offenders were solely responsible for placing the now-deceased 14-year-old offender in danger. They are ultimately responsible for his death. Had they not made the decisions they did make early Tuesday morning, this 14-year-old would still be alive today," he said.
Nerheim said the 75-year-old fired his gun in an attempt to scare away the teens. One of the warning shots struck Swopes in the head, he said.
Lake County Sheriff's office spokesman Christopher Covelli said the stolen Lexus SUV the teens were driving had more than one bullet hole in it. Authorities say the case remains under investigation. The 75-year-old has a valid firearm owners identification card and concealed carry permit, they said. He did not respond to requests for comment.
The others charged with murder are Diamond C. Davis, 18; her twin brothers, Steven and Stacy Davis, 17; and Kendrick Cooper, 17, all cousins of Jaquan. The five teens are charged under a state law known as the felony murder rule, which holds a person legally responsible for the death of an accomplice killed in the commission of a forcible felony. They are being held in Lake County jail on $1 million bail each and are due in court Sept. 5.
After shots were fired by the 75-year-old, the teens fled, authorities said, but stopped at the scene of an unrelated traffic accident in Gurnee and asked police for medical help for Jaquan.
Authorities said four of the teens then fled in the SUV, leaving one of the 17-year-olds with Jaquan and police, who summoned an ambulance. Jaquan died at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville. The teens were apprehended in Chicago after a high-speed chase, officials said.
Investigators are still collecting evidence to determine whether the SUV was used in other crimes by the group, Covelli said. Property found in the SUV is believed to have been stolen in a "smash and grab" car burglary in Chicago, he said previously.
Curtis Jr.'s mother said her son, who was going to be a junior in high school, left the house Monday afternoon when friends came to pick him up. She didn't see his friends or the vehicle they were in, she said. She got a call from law enforcement at about 7 a.m. Tuesday saying her son had been arrested, but got no information about charges or what happened, she said. "I kept calling and calling," she said.
She got to talk to her son about 12 hours later, she said. "He's terrified. He was crying," she said.
Curtis Jr.'s parents said their son told them he was asleep in the vehicle -- which he denied knowing was stolen -- and awoke at the sound of gunshots. They don't know the other teens but feel sorry for them and their families, and particularly for Jaquan's family, they said. "My condolences go to them. That could have been my son," Williams said.
Both parents said that if their son committed any crimes, he should be held accountable, but murder charges are far too harsh, they said. "I am trying to understand it. I can't," Dawson Sr. said.
Curtis' stepfather Christian Williams said it's ludicrous the teenagers would be made to pay for the actions of the 75-year-old. "That's like railroading teenagers out of their life. You are going to take their life away for something they didn't know was going to happen."