Chicago — Hours after Chicago police announced murder charges against two men for the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old boy in Humboldt Park, prosecutors dropped the case against one of the men during a bail hearing on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Chicago Police Department records show that a Chicago police detective commander and CPD Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan personally approved the murder charges against David Cervantes and Joseph Serrano after prosecutors in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office declined. But prosecutors dropped the case against Cervantes before he appeared in bond court.
However, prosecutors did continue with charges against Serrano. He was ordered held without bail by Judge Barbara Dawkins.
Akeem was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed when a bullet flew through the rear window of his home, passed through the kitchen, entered the bathroom, and struck him in the abdomen around 8:20 p.m. on October 26, prosecutors said.
Clutching his side, the boy walked to the kitchen and told his mother that he had been shot. He later died.
On Thursday, prosecutors said videos showed three people carrying two guns approaching the alley behind Akeem’s home in the 2600 block of West Potomac and opening fire on a group of people in a Volkswagen SUV.
All four intended targets ran from the scene and escaped unharmed, but one bullet killed Akeem.
Prosecutors said Serrano, another person, and a juvenile were captured on various surveillance cameras before, during, and after the shooting. The police found 16 shell casings from two handguns at the scene.
A witness allegedly saw the juvenile and another person firing a gun in a yard not far from the murder scene three days later. The witness put on gloves, collected two shell casings from the yard, and turned them over to police, who confirmed that they were ejected from one of the guns that fired shots at the Volkswagen, prosecutors said.
Police allegedly collected social media conversations from several people that showed Serrano and others discussing the shooting, beginning after a fellow gang member was shot on October 21 by someone who rode in a silver Volkswagen.
Serrano searched the web for his own mugshot and the term “7-year-old murdered” and told the juvenile to get rid of the gun but keep the bullets, prosecutors said.
Serrano has no criminal background.
His attorney said he lives with six siblings and has been raising them since his mother died from cancer last year. He is a senior in high school. The attorney argued that no witnesses had identified him as the shooter, and no one had said they saw Serrano with a gun in his hand.
But, citing “voluminous circumstantial evidence” and an “exhaustive investigation,” Judge Dawkins held Serrano without bail.
On Tuesday evening, CPD Supt. David Brown and Deenihan, the chief of detectives, held a press conference to announce first-degree murder charges against the juvenile in connection with Akeem’s shooting. Detectives believe the 16-year-old carried a handgun and passed it to one of the adults but did not personally fire the weapon.
Deenihan told reporters that CPD was “working really closely with the state’s attorney on [the adults] as well.”
But, on Wednesday evening, Deenihan personally signed what’s called an “area district supervisor override” against Serrano after prosecutors refused to approve charges, according to Chicago police records. The report shows that a prosecutor decided to approve the charge two minutes after Deenihan’s override.
Area 5 Detective Commander Joel Howard signed an override against Cervantes, CPD records show, but prosecutors dropped the case when Cervantes showed up for a bail hearing.
A police override is a rarely-used maneuver. The fact that the chief of detectives personally overrode the decision instead of a lower-ranking command staff member is especially unusual.
Overrides have caused public clashes between the police department and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office a few times over the past year:
- In September 2021, a CPD detective commander overrode prosecutors to bring charges against a man whom police believe shot and killed a 7-year-old girl. But the commander’s override was itself overridden by superiors who wanted to avoid a public spat with prosecutors. The state’s attorney’s office approved murder charges in the case about a month later.
- In May 2021, another CPD detective commander approved charges against a man who investigators believed had shot two women. Prosecutors dropped the charges during his bail hearing. Less than a year later, the same man, Joshua Jones, was charged in an unrelated case with Class X armed habitual criminal, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon, and misdemeanor domestic battery after he allegedly beat a woman with a handgun.
- In April, a Chicago police detective commander signed off on murder charges against a man who allegedly beat another man to death with a hammer, then claimed self-defense. In a particularly rare move, prosecutors pursued the case rather than throwing it out during the man’s bail hearing.