Drug dealer kept a gun and $60,000 worth of heroin and crack inside a West Loop homeless camp tent, prosecutors say

CHICAGO — 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.

He may be right.

Chicago police last week arrested a man in a tent city near the Clinton CTA station after he allegedly sold drugs to an undercover cop. Prosecutors said police found more than $60,000 worth of suspected heroin and crack cocaine in the tent he worked out of, along with a loaded handgun with an extended ammunition magazine attached.

A judge rejected the prosecution’s request to keep 19-year-old Tailon Appleton in jail as a public safety threat.

“As much as I’ve been critical of our current State’s Atty, here the @cookcountysao asked to hold the defendant, which was warranted under these circumstances,” Conway wrote on Twitter. “The judge choosing to release the defendant is shocking. The SAFE-T act wasn’t the issue, it allows detention here.”

When another Twitter user asked Conway to identify the judge, he declined.

“Appreciate the frustration, but I don’t shame judges by name, especially on one data point,” he tweeted. “It’s a tough job, they make difficult decisions, and have no megaphone to respond like I do as an elected official. But I disagree with the decision here and won’t be shy about that.”

As we have done with all judicial decisions we’ve reported on since 2013, we will be naming her.

The allegations

Prosecutors said Appleton sold a small amount of drugs to an undercover cop in exchange for currency with serial numbers law enforcement recorded in advance. They arrested him around 2:40 p.m. on November 30 in the 500 block of West Lake.

Cops entered the tent Appleton was “dealing out of,” prosecutors said in their detention petition, and found a blue backpack. Inside, they found a backpack containing the firearm and baggies of heroin and crack, police said.

In court records, police said they found nearly three-quarters of a pound of heroin worth $52,875 and $8,610 worth of crack. They also recovered about 5 ounces of liquid codeine and $1,188 in cash, according to the court filings.

Tailon Appleton | Chicago Police Department; Multiplottr

Prosecutors charged Appleton with armed violence, a charge that simply means someone is accused of possessing a firearm while engaged in narcotics activity but does not necessarily mean they were violent. He is also charged with manufacture-delivery of heroin, manufacture-delivery of cocaine, and two felony narcotics possession counts.

Judge Maryam Ahmad rejected the state’s detention petition in writing.

She noted that Appleton was alone in the tent and conceded that he was arrested in “an area being ravaged by drugs.”

But, the judge wrote, the arrest is Appleton’s first as an adult. He cares for his mother, who has cancer, she continued, and was “very compliant [with] officers.”

Electronic monitoring “can mitigate the court’s concerns [regarding] continued drug sale activity.”

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

Among the crimes that have raised alarms with Conway is a recent shooting near the Clinton CTA station. In October, a man was shot by a gunman on a Divvy bike who fled the scene and went directly to a homeless camp tent before fleeing again. No arrests have been announced in either case.

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About Tim Hecke 217 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