CHICAGO — Two years after Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent said two guns found in a Streeterville hotel room were an “arsenal” brought to town by an Iowa man with “nefarious plans,” that man has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor reckless conduct charge.
Neither Lori Lightfoot nor then-CPD top cop David Brown ever provided a shred of evidence to support the allegations they made against Keegan Casteel, and prosecutors never suggested that Casteel had any plan to use the weapons.
Instead, his lawyer argued, he drove his family to Chicago to propose to his girlfriend and watch Independence Day fireworks at Navy Pier with her and their children. When Casteel was released from custody a couple of days after being arrested, he made a beeline for the Near North (18th) District police station to claim the engagement ring police seized from his hotel room and then dropped to one knee and proposed as a phalanx of TV news cameras rolled nearby.
On Monday, Casteel pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct. Judge Sutker-Dermer handed Casteel, 34, a sentence of 10 months conditional discharge. Prosecutors dropped four felony gun charges and reduced the fifth count to the misdemeanor.
Chicago police went to the W Hotel Lakeshore after a hotel employee reported seeing two firearms in Casteel’s room.
Lightfoot claimed Casteel came to Chicago “with an arsenal, an AR-15…Thank God for that hotel worker who saw something and said something, and I believe averted disaster.” In fact, the rifle police recovered was a .308 caliber, not an AR-15, prosecutors said.
“This wasn’t a firearm for personal protection. What he had was weapons of war,” Lightfoot continued, saying the seized items represented “something more nefarious.”
Brown told reporters, “Thank God for that hotel worker who saw something and said something, and I believe averted disaster.” He said the police intervention “likely prevented a tragedy from happening.”
Brown and Lightfoot made their statements after federal investigators walked away from the case without seeking charges. They offered no evidence to support their allegations that Casteel had evil intentions.
Casteel’s plans, his attorney revealed, were to celebrate the Fourth of July with his family and propose at the Navy Pier Ferris wheel.
“In fact, when police responded to Mr. Casteel’s hotel room, he was getting ready for the engagement proposal and had a diamond ring hidden in the hotel room,” lawyer Jonathan Brayman said in 2021.
Casteel’s girlfriend answered the door for officers, and Casteel, licensed to own firearms and conceal carry in Iowa, freely admitted that there were guns in the room, prosecutors said. Police seized a handgun, a rifle, and five ammunition magazines.
Shortly after Casteel bailed out of jail, TV cameras recorded him claiming the diamond ring from the 18th District police station and getting down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend in the middle of the street outside.
Brayman said Brown and “other public officials” made Casteel a “scapegoat in the face of widespread violence and actual shootings in the city.”
A source with knowledge of the investigation told CWBChicago in 2021 that it appeared Casteel forgot to take the guns and magazines out of his car before driving to Chicago, and he took them to his room rather than leave them in the vehicle.
But Brown said officers found a loaded rifle “in a very suspicious position” on the room’s window sill overlooking Navy Pier.
Editor’s note August 29, 2023: A previous version of this story stated that Casteel pleaded guilty to a felony gun charge, which is what is shown in the case records maintained by the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Subsequent to publication, Casteel’s attorney provided documents that show he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge. We have updated the story accordingly.
Update August 30, 2023: A Cook County judge today ordered the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County to correct the public record. The clerk’s office quickly complied with the order.