9 men charged with taking guns to North Avenue Beach on Memorial Day: ‘Just don’t go if you think it’s going to be dangerous’

Chicago police seized 11 illegal guns at North Avenue Beach over the holiday weekend, CPD Supt. David Brown said Tuesday. At least nine adults, all men, were charged with felony gun possession at the beach on Monday alone. They appeared in felony bond court Tuesday afternoon before, coincidentally, Judge Charles Beach.

While Brown credited his department’s “enhanced security protocols” for the gun seizures, all but two of the individuals charged were caught when they allegedly tried to bring firearms through checkpoints at the beach entrances — or ran away from the checkpoints when cops asked to look inside their bags.

Chicago police staff a checkpoint at the entrance to North Avenue Beach on Memorial Day weekend, 2022. Inset (L to R): Damian Avila, Mehkyi Bridges, Juan Carrasquillo, Bryan Frost, Kaleb Harris, Giovanni Mercado, Charles Owens, and Jevon Stephenson. | CPD; CCSO

Police established the checkpoints to prevent alcohol from being brought onto the beach, according to prosecutors. A sign posted near one checkpoint warned beachgoers that bags were subject to search and cited a city ordinance against having alcoholic beverages on park property.

Several of the men arrested on Monday had state-issued Firearm Owners ID (FOID) cards that allow people to own firearms, but lacked concealed carry licenses (CCL).

Only two of the nine people who appeared in bond court Tuesday were not arrested as a result of CPD checkpoint searches.

Jevon Stephenson, 21, of Calumet City, is one of these men. Cops patrolling the beach saw Stephenson reach into a backpack and pull out a gun that he pointed at an “unknown individual,” Assistant State’s Attorney Sean Kelly said. Stephenson complied with a police order to drop the weapon, Kelly said.

The firearm was allegedly reported stolen from Michigan in September.

Stephenson reportedly has an FOID but no CCL. Beach said he could go home after posting a $500 bail deposit, but he must stay in the house from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Chicago police officers conduct a bag check at North Avenue Beach on Memorial Day weekend 2022. | CPD

Charles Owens, 23, allegedly carried a gun that was discovered by a security guard during a bag check at Castaways, the restaurant and bar atop the beach’s landmark boat-shaped service building. Prosecutors said the guard seized the loaded handgun and an additional ammunition magazine from Owens, then summoned police while he apparently enjoyed the venue. Owens has a FOID but not a CCL, Kelly said.

“Mr. Owens comes before the court … He has no criminal background whatsoever. He’s gainfully employed. He’s college educated. Yet, for some reason, unlicensed, he carries a weapon to the beach,” summarized Judge Beach.

“If you’re doing it because you’re worried you gotta defend yourself, then perhaps you just don’t go to the beach,” the judge continued. “Just don’t go if you think it’s going to be dangerous.”

Owens paid a $500 bail deposit bond to go home and await trial.

Beach handed down similar bail amounts to four other men who were allegedly caught with firearms at CPD checkpoints.

But the judge tripled the required bail deposit for Mehkyi Bridges, 20, of Joliet. Prosecutors said Bridges ran from the police checkpoint, had $320 worth of pot in his bag, and carried a loaded “ghost gun.” He was also adjudicated delinquent for aggravated robbery as a juvenile in 2019, prosecutors said. Beach cited all of those factors as reasons for Bridges’ higher bail amount..

Another man, 23-year-old Kobe Johnson, allegedly backed away from the CPD checkpoint, refused to show his fanny pack, then bolted into the traffic lanes of Lake Shore Drive as he tried to escape from police. Prosecutors said he was caught trying to climb over a fence into the park on the other side of the drive. Cops allegedly found a loaded handgun in his fanny pack. Beach said the 23-year-old O’Hare employee would need $1,000 to get out of jail because he allegedly ran from cops and headed into a park where people were enjoying the holiday.

Two other men who allegedly ran from the checkpoints with guns in fanny packs will also need $1,000 to go home: Giovanni Mercado, 20, and Juan Carrasquillo, 25. Beach also ordered Mercado to go onto electronic monitoring.

Beach ordered three men who were allegedly arrested at checkpoints to pay $500 deposits to go home:

  • Kaleb Harris, a 20-year-old security guard who has never been arrested before. Beach also ordered him to stay in the house from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Bryan Frost, 21, of Lake County, who has no criminal background
  • Damian Avila, 27, who has no background and holds an FOID card. Beach also ordered him to go onto electronic monitoring.

Editor’s note: Kobe Johnson’s mugshot was not available at the time of publication.

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