Posted on October 3, 2012

Ride-Along: No Murders, One Shooting Makes It a ‘Good Day’ in Englewood

Mark Konkol et al., Chicago Sun-Times, September 22, 2012

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 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.”


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. {snip}

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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


By 9:30 p.m., not a single person in Englewood has been shot.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 3:41 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.


Not long after, the sun rises without a single shooting overnight in Englewood.

Morning patrol

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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. {snip}


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.


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.


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.


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.


The next day, and the day after, and every one after that, his officers again will be out, doing what they do.