Residents celebrate an arrest after beloved Rogers Park store manager is stabbed — but prosecutors rejected felony charges

CHICAGO — “They got him! They got him!” a man rejoices, fist-bumping a Chicago police officer seated inside a nearby squad car.

The elated North Sider was one of many people featured in an NBC5 Chicago story after police arrested a local troublemaker for allegedly stabbing the beloved manager of Morse Fresh Market, 1430 West Morse, on Easter Sunday.

“He could have gotten killed,” a member of the local business community told the news station, the reporter adding that Rogers Park residents were “demanding change to make sure that their community is safe.”

But, CWBChicago has learned prosecutors refused to approve any felony charges against the man who’s accused of attacking the store manager. Instead, they dinged him with misdemeanor battery and criminal damage violations.

So, what happened on Easter Sunday, and who’s the guy that police arrested and prosecutors wouldn’t charge with a felony?

John Kempski | Chicago Police Department; Google

His name is John Kempski, a 35-year-old who’s well-known to local businesses and residents. Last Sunday, Kempski was on probation for three felony cases, including a felony case that involved Morse Fresh Market, officials said.

According to court records, in July 2021, Kempski threatened to kill one of the market’s employees and “ruin the store,” and broke out the store windows. In the same case, he was charged with shoplifting from the store, slashing tires on two of the market’s trucks, and punching the same manager who was stabbed on Easter Sunday, the records show.

Easter stabbing

Chicago cops responded to the store around 6:30 p.m. on Easter. When they arrived, the store manager of more than 20 years was already in the back of a Chicago Fire Department ambulance, being treated for a stab wound to his abdomen.

During a misdemeanor bail hearing this week, a prosecutor said the manager’s girlfriend was seated in his truck while he went into the store. When the manager came back out, Kempski was in the process of slashing the truck’s right front tire.

The manager swung a golf club at Kempski, who took out a knife, stabbed him in the stomach area, and fled into an alley, the prosecutor said, describing the manager’s injury as a “minor stab wound.”

He said the manager knew Kempski as someone who frequently harasses the area, particularly Morse Fresh Market. The police arrested Kempski in the 1500 block of West Estes on Tuesday after someone spotted him nearby.

Judge Charles Beach ordered Kempski to pay a $7,500 bail deposit to be released on the new charges. Kempski must post another $30,000 deposit to be released on three probation violation warrants, the judge said. Those probation sentences are for aggravated battery of a peace officer, causing injury while resisting a peace officer, and felony criminal damage to property, according to a CPD arrest report.

The report said police asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to approve felony charges for the stabbing allegations, but a prosecutor in the felony review unit denied their request.

A history of problems

Three days before the stabbing at Morse Fresh Market, Chicago police arrested Kempski for allegedly punching the manager of the Dollar General store across the street, according to an arrest report reviewed by CWBChicago. 

The 58-year-old manager reported that he kicked Kempski out of the store due to a series of previous incidents. When the manager went outside later to throw away garbage, Kempski accosted him and punched him in the face, the report said. Police issued Kempski a citation, and he walked out of the Rogers Park police station less than three hours after he got arrested.

Kempski was charged with simple battery on January 8 after a 48-year-old man accused him of punching him in the face at the Morse Red Line station, another CPD report said. Prosecutors dropped the case on February 24. The court record does not indicate why the charges were stricken.

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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