One hour before Dakotah Earley was shot, Chicago police decided not to chase the stolen BMW his attacker used

Just before 2 a.m. on May 6, Chicago police dispatchers notified patrol officers that a GPS tracker had located a stolen BMW on Northerly Island, just east of Soldier Field. The car had been taken from an armed robbery victim in Lakeview the night before.

Police found the car on Museum Campus Drive and tried to pull it over. But the driver sped away and the cops let it go.

“It took off. We tried to put a stop on it,” an officer radioed. “We’re not following. We’re not chasing. Show us heading into [the station] to do an eluding” report.

Tyshon Brownlee (L) and Dakotah Earley are seen with a surveillance image of the BMW arriving at the robbery and shooting scene. | CPD; GoFundMe; Provided

Almost exactly an hour later, that BMW rolled up to the corner of Webster and Wayne in Lincoln Park. A gunman got out of it and ambushed 23-year-old Dakotah Earley in an armed robbery attempt. Within seconds, Earley’s life changed forever when the robber shot him three times at close range while demanding his phone password — twice in the back, once in his head.

He remains hospitalized. Doctors had to amputate part of his leg last week. His jaw, shattered by a bullet, is wired shut and he will eventually need a voice box to communicate, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) told a community meeting on Monday.

On Tuesday, prosecutors charged Tyshon Brownlee, 19, with attempted murder and five counts of robbery in connection with Earley’s shooting and four other hold-ups.

Police believe the crew responsible for robbing the BMW’s owner and Earley may have robbed 20 people on the North Side since May 4. Most of those occurred after police ended their pursuit of the BMW downtown.

“It’s easy to count the bad things that happen when pursuits go wrong,” a veteran Chicago police officer said Tuesday, “There’s no way to count the bad things that happen because a violent [person] wasn’t pursued.”

‘The balancing test’

Asked about the officers’ decision to end their pursuit of the BMW, Don Terry, chief communications officer for the police department, pointed to CPD General Order G03-03-01: “EMERGENCY VEHICLE OPERATIONS – ELUDING AND PURSUING.”

The document explains everything a Chicago cop must know and consider when deciding if they should pursue a vehicle. It’s 13 pages long.

“Officers must conform to the balancing test, which is outlined in the policy,” Terry said.

The “balancing test” requires an officer to determine if “[t]he necessity to immediately apprehend the fleeing suspect outweighs the level of inherent danger created by a motor vehicle pursuit.”

Critics argue that the department puts its thumb on the “balancing test” scale so it weighs heavily against pursuing almost anyone: “The Department will not discipline any member for terminating a motor vehicle pursuit,” the order reads.

“Nobody’s going to get stripped for not chasing a BMW full of armed robbers,” the veteran cop said.

Would haves and could haves

Police learned that the stolen BMW was on Northerly Island because the automaker was tracking it, according to a source. When CPD learned of the car’s location, the department knew, or should have known, that the BMW and, likely, its occupants had been involved in a string of armed robberies across Lakeview and Lincoln Park, including three that occurred just a few hours earlier.

According to prosecutors, CPD documents, and sources, the police department knew:

  • The BMW was taken from a man who was robbed at gunpoint on the 2900 block of North Clark the night before.
  • That within minutes of the Clark Street robbery, a group of armed men fired shots at another robbery victim in nearby Lincoln Park. That victim was not injured.
  • Four hours before police spotted the car on the Museum Campus, a woman was robbed at gunpoint on the 3000 block of North Racine. She memorized the license plate number of the gunman’s getaway car and gave it to police. The license plate number she gave perfectly matched the BMW’s plate.
  • That woman told officers the gunman also robbed another woman across the street from her, but she didn’t know where the victim went.
  • Minutes after the women were robbed, a man was robbed at gunpoint four blocks south on Racine.
  • All of the robberies involved armed men wearing ski masks who jumped out of cars to confront people who were walking down streets.

Despite having all of that information within the department, the BMW pursuit was terminated.

Minutes before Tyshon Brownlee shot Dakotah Earley, he also robbed a DePaul University student at gunpoint while the man walked to his dorm, prosecutors said Tuesday. They said Brownlee also robbed the women who were across the street from each other and the man on Racine.

Between the time Earley was shot and the time police arrested Brownlee on Sunday, the crew likely robbed a dozen more people at gunpoint across the North Side, investigators believe.

“How many other Dakotahs are there?” the veteran cop wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon. “How many victims of violent people that we let drive away?”

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com