Six-time convicted gun offender Damien Stewart appeared in felony bond court Friday to face yet another felony gun charge.
While being convicted of six gun felonies is quite an accomplishment, an even bigger achievement may be the plea deal Stewart negotiated for his sixth conviction. His sentence for that case was actually less than for his fourth and fifth gun convictions. And, even better, he didn’t have to spend a single night in prison after he pleaded guilty.
No sweetheart deals
When WBEZ published a story Tuesday that said virtually everyone in the Cook County justice system was pleased with the way officials disposed of a criminal case backlog caused by COVID, we were intrigued. Many stagnant cases were resolved with plea deals.
The head of criminal prosecutions for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Risa Lanier, told the news outlet that she told prosecutors to “take a look at your cases, and make appropriate offers based upon your evidence and based upon the law, based upon your conversations with your victims.”
“So I was not telling anyone to, you know, to give away the candy store or make any sweetheart deals, we want to ensure that the work that we’re doing that we’re continuing to do it with integrity, despite the circumstances that we’re under, but we do empower our [assistants] to look at their cases and to use their discretion,” Lanier continued.
If you’re not familiar with Lanier, she was the lead prosecutor in the original Jussie Smollet case. That case concluded so favorably for the defendant, most experienced attorneys and judges said they had never seen anything like it before — and it helped spark a special prosecutor investigation that brought embarrassment to the state’s attorney’s office and her boss, Kim Foxx.
But, unlike most people who bring embarrassment on their boss and fumble an assignment that launches deep scrutiny of one’s employer, Lanier was subsequently promoted to oversee all of the county’s prosecutions.
In the spring of 2019, prosecutors charged Damien Stewart, then 28, with a long list of serious charges after an incident in the South Shore neighborhood: Class X armed habitual criminal, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon with previous convictions, ten counts of aggravated battery of police, aggravated assault of a peace officer by using a firearm, an DUI.
On May 6, Stewart and Cook County prosecutors struck a plea deal to resolve the matter. Prosecutors agreed to drop all charges except one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm with a previous conviction.
Then, with that one remaining charge, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge to Class 4 aggravated unlawful use of a weapon — the least-serious level of felony in the state.
Stewart, who had been facing a mandatory sentence of six to 30 years in prison on just one of the charges against him, received a sentence of three years, which was offset entirely by the time he spent on electronic monitoring and in jail before he pleaded guilty, court records show. Judge James Linn oversaw the case and sentenced Stewart on May 6.
The next day, Stewart arrived at the Stateville Correctional Center. And he walked out the same day, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records.
State records show Stewart received a five-year sentence in 2015 for his fifth gun conviction, six years in 2010 for his fourth gun, three years for his third in 2009, and two years each for his first and second guns in 2008.
Contrary to what might be expected, Stewart’s prison sentences are becoming shorter with each of his recent convictions.
Stewart, still on parole for that conviction, appeared in Chicago’s felony bond court on New Year’s Eve to face another set of charges after he allegedly sped away from cops who saw a gun in his car during a traffic stop.
He was the only person in the car when police pulled him over in the 400 block of East Pershing on Wednesday, Assistant State’s Attorney John Gnilka said. The cops allegedly saw him making movements toward the back seat as they approached.
He gave the cops his driver’s license, but the officers asked him to step out of the car when they saw a semi-automatic handgun with an extended ammunition magazine sticking out of a pouch on the back of his passenger seat, Gnilka said.
Stewart refused to get out and drove away when cops opened his driver’s door. But he left his driver’s license behind. His car crashed into a fence three blocks later, according to Gnilka. Stewart and the gun were gone when cops arrived, but his wallet and phone were still inside the vehicle.
Around 1:30 a.m. Thursday, Stewart walked into the 5th (Calumet) Police District station wearing the same clothes he was wearing during the traffic stop, according to Gnilka. He told officers at the desk that his car had been stolen from outside his house with his wallet, phone, and ID inside.
Officers went outside to talk with a woman sitting in a car. Stewart said she was his wife. According to Gnilka, the woman told police she had a gun in the car, but she had a concealed carry license.
In fact, officers found a handgun with an extended ammunition magazine under the driver’s seat. It looked just like the one cops allegedly saw during the traffic stop, Gnilka said.
Prosecutors on Friday charged Stewart with Class X armed habitual criminal, possessing an extended ammunition magazine, leaving the scene, failure to report as a gun offender, and filing a false police report.
An assistant public defender slyly pointed to the false report case as she countered the state’s allegations.
“I’m not sure if the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office aggressively pursues those charges,” the attorney deadpanned. Lanier, designer of the “Smollet Deal,” would likely not be amused.
Judge Mary Marubio set Stewart’s bail at $250,000. He must post 10% of that to get out of jail. But she also ordered him held without bail until state authorities can review his parole status in light of the new allegations.