A pair of Chicago brothers were hit with felony charges Monday after a traffic stop Saturday night in West Englewood ended in tragedy, with Chicago police Officer Ella French fatally shot and her partner badly wounded.
Emonte Morgan, 21, was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder of a peace officer and other charges, police and prosecutors announced. His brother, Eric Morgan, 22, was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon as well as one count of obstructing justice. They were expected to appear for bond hearings in Cook County court on Tuesday.
French, 29, an officer since April 2018, was the first Chicago cop to be shot and killed in the line of duty since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office in 2019, and the first since police Superintendent David Brown began leading the city’s police force last year. Her killing rattled a city already struggling with violence this summer.
The brothers have little in the way of serious criminal backgrounds, though both were on probation for separate cases at the time of the shooting. Emonte Morgan pleaded guilty to robbery in Cook County court last year, and Eric Morgan pleaded guilty to theft in Dane County, Wisconsin, records show.
Separately, federal prosecutors have charged Jamel Danzy, an Indiana man who allegedly told investigators he was in a relationship with one of the brothers, with straw-purchasing the gun that was ultimately used to kill French. Danzy turned it over to one of the brothers shortly after buying it under false pretenses, a criminal complaint alleges.
French’s partner, a Chicago police officer since August 2014, remained hospitalized at the University of Chicago Medical Center on Monday after being shot in the head. He was initially taken to the hospital in serious-to-critical condition.
Speaking at a news conference Monday where the charges were announced, police Superintendent David Brown said the wounded officer is “incrementally improving from Saturday night’s tragic events.”
“I think that the people of Chicago need to … pray, not only for the recovery of our officer who is fighting for his life” but also for other officers on the street doing the job, Brown said, lamenting what he called low support for the police from the public and members of the media, who often focus on police reform issues and not acts of heroism.
“It’s past time to stop this, you know, imbalanced treatment of police officers here in Chicago and everywhere in this country,” Brown said. “We’re flawed. Just like the media gallery is flawed. Just like every profession in our country is flawed.
“But they go down dark alleys none of you would go down to protect you.”
He said the suspects’ vehicle was curbed because of “expired plates,” but investigators haven’t yet established a motive for the shooting. Brown also said the woman who was with the Morgan brothers was not charged with anything because there was no evidence against her.
The Saturday shooting happened just after 9 p.m. near West 63rd Street and South Bell Avenue when the officers conducted a traffic stop of an SUV, authorities said.
Investigators have been using body-worn camera footage to piece together the sequence of events that led up to the shooting, sources have said.
Footage shows the three occupants were out or in the process of being taken out of the vehicle when Eric Morgan ran, leading one officer to chase and apprehend him nearby, the sources said.
The second suspect, Emonte Morgan, pulled away from French and made a move back toward the inside of the vehicle. As the officers tried to apprehend him, he allegedly fired a gun, striking both officers, sources said.
Emonte Morgan was then wounded when he was shot by the officer who had initially chased his brother.
Brown also provided a brief narrative of the confrontation that led to the shooting at the news conference, also describing a struggle between Emonte Morgan and the officers.
“The struggle went from the trunk of the car to near the inside of the car, not necessarily all the way inside,” said Brown. “And the shots rang out from ... the passenger’s front seat of the car, which is where he was originally seated.”
Brown’s demeanor turned to frustration, however, when asked about the dangers of sending young officers through “reverse seniority” to high-crime neighborhoods. French was 29 with just three years on the job, for instance.
“These two offenders killed Ella French and then tried to kill the (second and third) officers there,” Brown said sternly. “That’s the only person we’re pointing the finger at today. One person did this. Not reverse seniority. Not any other reasons than this person killed her and tried to kill other officers.
“And I won’t entertain finger-pointing,” he continued, “at anyone or anything else.”
Over the weekend, Brown said a total of 38 Chicago police officers have been shot at or shot so far in 2021, 11 of whom had been struck by gunfire. The 11 includes French and her partner. For all of 2020, 79 Chicago cops were shot at or shot.
The officers were taken to the U. of C. Medical Center while the wounded Morgan brother was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He and one other male suspect were arrested, while a 21-year-old woman was taken into custody hours later, police officials said.
French and her partner were members of the community safety team, a citywide unit formed last summer under Brown to respond to crime hot spots.
Prior to Saturday night, the last line-of-duty deaths of Chicago cops who were killed while pursuing a suspect were in December 2018, when Officers Eduardo Marmolejo and Conrad Gary were fatally struck by a train as they looked for a man wanted for illegally possessing a gun. That suspect, Edward Brown, was sentenced earlier this year to one year in prison for a felony weapon violation in the case.
The last female Chicago cop to be shot and killed in the line of duty was Irma Ruiz, who died in September 1988 when she was shot inside an elementary school on the Near West Side.
In the French shooting, records showed that Danzy bought the gun in March from a licensed dealer in Hammond, where he claimed to be buying the weapon for himself, according to the federal complaint filed Monday.
ATF agents on Sunday tracked down Danzy at the restaurant where he works, and he agreed to be interviewed on tape in an agent’s car in the parking lot.
Agents showed him the paperwork from the dealer, and at first, he claimed to have bought the gun for himself, the complaint states. But “after further questioning,” he admitted he instead had bought it for someone in Chicago, Individual A, who had a felony record and could not buy a gun for himself.
Also Monday, Lightfoot’s office addressed controversy that emerged from her visit to the hospital the officers were taken to Saturday night, where a group of police officers apparently turned their back on her.
A source with knowledge of the incident said Lightfoot also was scolded by the father of the officer who was seriously wounded in the shooting. Lightfoot stood and listened in response, according to the source.
Afterward, Lightfoot tried to approach a few dozen officers who walked away from her and kept their backs turned, the source said. The mayor then walked away, according to the source.
Lightfoot’s office released a statement Monday addressing the incident at the hospital by saying she was present at the emergency department “to offer support and condolences to the families involved and the hundreds of line officers and exempts who were there, which she did.”
“In a time of tragedy, emotions run high and that is to be expected,” the statement said. “The mayor spoke to a range of officers that tragic night and sensed the overwhelming sentiment was about concern for their fallen colleagues.”
The mayor’s office also said it’s “time for us to come together as a city.”