Man killed near West Loop homeless camp this month was engaged in a shootout — but someone stole his gun before cops arrived

CHICAGO — New information has emerged about the shooting that left a man dead near a homeless encampment in the West Loop two weeks ago. Chicago police now believe that the man who died was involved in a shootout with at least one other person who was armed with a rifle. And, detectives learned, someone stole the dead man’s gun as he was lying unresponsive in the middle of Lake Street.

The shooting occurred around 12:50 a.m. on December 7, just south of the Clinton CTA station, which serves Pink and Green Line trains. Chicago police officers responded to the scene after 911 callers reported hearing up to eight gunshots in the area.

When the cops arrived, Chicago Fire Department personnel were already trying to save the mortally wounded man, 59-year-old Darnell Burt, according to a CPD case report reviewed by CWBChicago. Burt was found lying in the middle of Lake Street, directly under the El platform, the report said.

Investigators searched the area for evidence, finding three shell casings at 169 North Clinton, near the French Market parking garage entrance, and seven rifle rounds directly across the street.

Burt, standing outside the parking garage, was caught on video as he exchanged gunfire with someone on the opposite side of Clinton Street, the report said. Upon being shot in the chest, Burt ran north on Clinton and collapsed under the train station.

After Burt had fallen, but before first responders arrived, a man walked up to him and stole Burt’s gun with one hand and took Burt’s bag with the other hand, the report said, citing surveillance video.

Cops detained a man who matched the description of the person who took Burt’s gun and bag, but he was released without being charged. No other arrests have been announced in connection with the case.

Clean up

For months, Ald. Bill Conway (34th) has been trying to clear out homeless encampments that have become entrenched under viaducts in his ward, saying they are one of the sources of crime in the neighborhood. One of those camps is located a few yards from the shootout that claimed Burt’s life.

Conway filed a complaint with the city’s inspector general last month after a top aide to Mayor Brandon Johnson told him the administration could do more about the tent city problems, but the administration official linked that help to securing Conway’s votes on legislation important to Johnson.

A homeless camp under the Clinton L station is seen on December 7, 2023. A yellow sign on the wall (left) announces an “off-street cleaning” planned for December 21. | CWBChicago

“Based on the clear trajectory of violent crime in the area, this tragic fatal shooting was inevitable and likely avoidable,” Conway said in a statement hours after the shootout that left Burt dead.

He switched tactics one week ago. In a new approach, Conway urged the mayor to clean up the West Loop’s tent cities because the camps block sidewalks, which could expose the city to litigation for failing to keep the path clear for people with disabilities.

On Friday, Conway declared victory, saying the mayor’s office had agreed to clean up the area’s viaducts this week.

However, photographs taken by CWBChicago at the December 7 shooting scene show that notices about this week’s clean-up project were already posted at the nearby homeless camp when Burt was killed. Several layers of old clean-up notices were under the most recent notification.

What gives?

“There is a difference between the regular clean-ups that I can get our Ward [Superintendent] to do, which are sometimes posted, and the power washing, full scale clean up we had here,” Conway said in an email.

“Certainly not declaring victory, but the situation is much improved under there,” he continued. “Hopefully more of the people accept shelter in the coming weeks as it gets colder from DFSS, and we’ll continue to work with Streets and San to clean it up, and work with CPD on the dealers.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on January 2, 2024 with the final four paragraphs after we received Conway’s email.

About Tim Hecke 221 Articles
Tim Hecke is CWBChicago's managing partner. He started his career at KMOX, the legendary news radio station in St. Louis. From there, he moved on to work at stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York City. Tim went on to build syndicated radio news and content services that served every one of America's 100 largest radio markets. He became CWBChicago's managing partner in 2019. His email address is tim@cwbchicago.com