Online Exclusive

Police Say Chicago Homicide Toll Not at 500 Yet

Hours after Chicago police listed the shooting death of a West Side man as the city’s 500th homicide of the year, the department backtracked and said the city has yet to reach the grim milestone.

Superintendent Garry McCarthy had told the Tribune Thursday afternoon that the homicide count stood at 499. Hours later, Nathaniel T. Jackson, 40, was gunned down outside a store in the Austin neighborhood and the department confirmed Friday morning that his death was the 500th homicide. Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement noting that "Chicago has reached an unfortunate and tragic milestone."

But then the department issued its own statement calling reports of the tally inaccurate, saying the number remained at 499. Asked for clarification, a spokeswoman for the superintendent said one of the homicide cases from earlier this week has been reclassified as a death investigation.

The case in question is last Saturday’s death of 57-year-old Edward Phelps. He died following a domestic-related altercation in the 0-99 block of North Long Avenue in Austin, police said.

Although he appeared to have suffered a blunt force injury, his autopsy on Sunday at the Cook County medical examiner’s office was ruled inconclusive, pending toxicological studies.

Still, police classified Phelps’ death as a homicide in the days following the autopsy, according to internal reports. It wasn’t until this afternoon that McCarthy’s spokeswoman, Melissa Stratton, citing the autopsy results, said the department reclassified the case as a death investigation.

McCarthy has been under fire because of the climbing number of homicides this year. As of Thursday night, homicides were up 17 percent over last year in Chicago and shootings had increased by 11 percent, according to police statistics.

Largely contributing to the spike was the unusual number of homicides that occurred during the early part of the year, when the city experienced unseasonable warmth. In the first three months of the year, homicides ran about 60 percent ahead of the 2011 rate.

The city's latest homicide occurred around 9 p.m. Thursday when someone walked up and shot Jackson in the head outside Noah Foods at Augusta Boulevard and Lavergne Avenue, police said.

Police tapped on apartment windows and knocked on doors looking for witnesses. A few bullet casings, which police believed were from a .45-caliber handgun, were found near the blood-stained sidewalk in front of the store. Police had no motive and no one was in custody.

Jackson's family sat for three hours in a waiting room at Stroger Hospital when staff members finally walked in and told them Jackson had died. Relatives stood up and exchanged tight embraces.

Jackson grew up on the West Side, a few miles from where he was gunned down, and had been released from prison this past summer after serving a sentence for robbery. He had been shot several years ago, after an earlier stint in jail, and a cousin said she constantly warned him to be careful on the street.

"The last time he was out, someone had shot him several times, in the back," Gave Bates said as she stood outside Stroger Hospital, where Jackson was pronounced dead shortly after midnight. "He was a fighter, he was a survivor."

Bates smiled through tears as she swiped her hand across her phone, flipping through pictures of her cousin playing around and striking goofy poses.

"He was a lot of fun, very good at imitating people," Bates said. "He just had so much fun all the time. And we all grew up together in the same house."

Copyright 2012 - Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service