A Chicago police detective commander on Friday took the unusual step of overriding prosecutors’ decision not to pursue murder charges against a man suspected of killing a 7-year-old girl and injuring her younger sister on the Northwest Side, according to a police source. But the commander was himself overruled when CPD leaders decided to avoid a public confrontation with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
It’s at least the second time in three weeks that prosecutors have refused to approve charges in a high-profile murder case for Area Five investigators.
Serenity Broughton was killed and her 6-year-old sister, Aubrey, was injured as they sat in the back seat of their parent’s car in the 6200 block of West Grand early on August 15. The girls were reportedly leaving their grandparents’ home with their mother when someone began shooting.
Police arrested a suspect late Wednesday or early Thursday and asked prosecutors to approve murder charges against the man, who is on parole. But attorneys in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office felony review division rejected the case and insisted that police get information from an uncooperative witness, the source said. The witness is believed to be a relative of Serenity and Aubrey who is familiar with the suspect.
Investigators tried but failed to convince prosecutors that the case was solid even without the witness’ involvement.
On Friday, as the man was nearing 48 hours in custody, a point at which police must either file charges or convince a judge of probable cause to hold a suspect longer, Area Five Detective Commander Eric Winstrom took the unusual step of overriding the prosecutors’ decision by approving the case himself, a source said. In addition to being a detective commander, Winstrom also happens to be an attorney.
But CPD leaders backed away from his override Saturday morning to avoid a high-profile dust-up with the state’s attorney’s office. The murder case was not filed. Even if police filed the case without prosecutorial approval, the state’s attorney’s office could refuse to pursue it in court, putting everyone right back where they started, a second source said.
For now, the murder investigation is continuing and the suspect is being held on a parole violation.
“This is the 2nd murder case where my community comes forward to provide witnesses and the 2nd time the murderer is released back into the community,” Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) tweeted Saturday night. “Why the hell should they come forward to help if all they’re doing is putting themselves at risk now.”
Last month, Area Five detectives and prosecutors butted heads in another widely-reported murder case and, once again, the man police believe is responsible for the killing escaped charges.
Chrys Carvajal was a 19-year-old newly-minted National Guardsman when he visited his family for a Fourth of July party on the Northwest Side. According to police, someone shot him dead when he stepped away from the party to get something from his car.
In August, Area Five detectives asked prosecutors to charge a 38-year-old high-ranking gang member with a long history of guns and violence with murder for the apparently random murder of Carvajal. But prosecutors refused to file charges citing insufficient evidence. They sent the cops marching with directions to get more proof.
“Video evidence and three eyewitnesses have been presented” to prosecutors, Villegas said on Twitter, “however murder charges were rejected.” Cops also told prosecutors that the suspect’s car and phone were at or near the murder scene when Carvajal was killed, according to a source.
It’s a scenario that has unfolded with increasing regularity since Foxx took office in December 2016.
Foxx’s murder case rejection rate is significantly higher than her predecessor, Anita Alvarez. Last year, Cook County prosecutors refused to pursue 26% of the murder cases Chicago cops brought to them for charging, according to the office’s data portal. In 2019, Foxx’s office rejected 29% of CPD’s attempts to charge murderers.
Foxx’s office chalks the rejection rate up to higher standards and ethical obligations. But those supposedly stricter standards aren’t producing more convictions, according to Foxx’s own data.
Last year, Foxx’s office lost 20% of murder cases, the data shows. The year before, her prosecutors lost 22% of murder cases. The first two years of Foxx’s tenure showed murder conviction rates in line with Alvarez’s performance. But murder cases take years to resolve, and many, if not most, of the cases resolved during Foxx’s first two years were likely approved by Alvarez’s office.
“This family deserves justice as well as the hundreds of families who have unsolved murders pending #pleasedoyourjob,” Ald. Villegas tweeted Friday.
Villegas said he took his quest for justice to Illinois’ two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, hoping federal authorities might step in to take the case.
Last December, CWBChicago detailed the exhaustive efforts Chicago police detectives made to get Foxx’s office to approve murder charges in a slaying that was captured on crystal clear video. While a series of different prosecutors ordered detectives to dig up new and changing pieces of evidence, the murderer packed his bags and flew home to China. Foxx’s office eventually approved charges after the alleged killer returned to his home country.
A 54-page government file, provided to CWBChicago by the victim’s family, shows no fewer than seven different prosecutors refused to charge the suspect at different times over the span of nearly four months. Six of those refusals took place after detectives collected video footage of the slaying, records show.
According to the file, almost every refusal came from a different assistant state’s attorney, each of whom had new sets of tasks for detectives to complete before charges might be approved.
After prosecutors rejected the case for the seventh time, a Chicago police lieutenant intervened to insist that murder charges be sought. By then, though, the suspect was already out of the country and beyond the reach of law enforcement.
“An arrest warrant has been issued,” a detective writes in the final paragraph of the case file. “The Department of Homeland Security has verified that the offender, Fangqi Lu, has fled to Shanghai, China. There is no extradition treaty between the United States and China, because of this it precludes the arrest and prosecution of the offender.”