CHICAGO (CBS) 2019 was a busy year in the news in Chicago – from a historic election that brought a new mayor into office to a scandal that forced a police superintendent out.
But the show-stopping headline – series of headlines, actually – that topped them all was the saga of Jussie Smollett. Multiple stories about the case dominated CBS 2’s top web stories of 2019.
1. The Jussie Smollett Case
The “Empire” actor first claimed that early in the morning on Jan. 29, two men came up to him in the bitter cold on Lower North Water Street as he was heading to his apartment. He said they yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, told him “this is MAGA country,” poured a chemical on him and put a rope around his neck.
But as police investigated the case, they began saying that indicators pointed to Smollett orchestrating the attack. Police concluded that Smollett paid two brothers – Abel and Ola Osundairo – to stage the attack, because he was upset with his salary on his Fox show.
Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct in March, but just weeks later, Cook County prosecutors dismissed the case without a plea, after Smollett agreed to surrender his $10,000 bail and perform 16 hours of community service.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Supt. Eddie Johnson were furious.
“This without a doubt is a whitewash of justice, and sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence in power, you’ll be treated one way,” Emanuel said in the wake of the charges being dropped on March 26. “Other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability in the system.”
Meanwhile, other salacious headlines erupted around the scandal. Among them were reports that dozens of workers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital may have been fired for improperly reviewing Smollett’s medical records.
2. The Polar Vortex And The Deep Freeze
On Wednesday, Jan. 30, the temperature plunged to a dangerous minus 22 degrees. Schools and many offices were closed and streets were left eerily deserted in the bright, but frigid sunshine.
Chicago’s that day was colder than parts of Siberia, the Yukon, and the Arctic – and was even colder than temperatures that recently had been recorded on Mars.
But it could always be worse. Minneapolis recorded 27 below that same day, and Yakutsk, Russia recorded minus 47.
3. A Big Scare At The Willis Tower
In June, the Ledge at the Willis Tower cracked under visitors’ feet. A video shot on the 103rd floor showed the protective top layer of glass on the floor of the Ledge splintering into thousands of pieces.
The protective layer covers the glass bottom below. The Willis Tower said no one was ever in danger, because the protective layer did what it was supposed to.
The same thing happened back in May of 2014 on the same ledge window.
4. A Foul Ball Hits Girl In Stands
During a game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in late May, the Cubs’ Albert Almora Jr. hit a hard line-drive foul into the stands and hit a child.
He immediately put his hands on his head and took a couple of steps toward the seats. He then fell to his knees near home plate and was consoled by teammate Jason Heyward and manager Joe Maddon.
Almora Jr. was visibly distraught after the fourth-inning hit. He immediately put his hands on his head and took a couple of steps toward the seats. He then fell to his knees near home plate and was consoled by teammate Jason Heyward and manager Joe Maddon.
The girl was picked up by a man who appeared to be with her and he dashed up the stairs not long after she was struck. A photo taken by The Associated Press showed the girl apparently conscious and crying as she was whisked away and nearby fans looked on.
The incident ignited a conversation that has been circling around Major League Baseball over the past few years regarding fan safety.
5. CPD Officer Followed, Shot At
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, a Chicago Police officer was trailed – and a barrage of bullets followed as he drove in his Grand Cherokee on the Southwest Side.
The shots rang out at the intersection of 81st Street and Washtenaw Avenue. A former officer who was a witness said he heard at least 12 shots.
Police said the shooter got back in the Dodge Caravan and sped away. The off-duty officer, unhurt, drove his bullet riddled jeep a half a mile south to 85th and Washtenaw where it may have broken down due to a flat tire.
The officer never fired his weapon despite being shot at.
6. Toddler Drifts Off In Lake Michigan On Inflatable Duck
Bystanders rushed to Lake Michigan in Michigan City, Indiana on Monday, July 22, after the boy started drifting away on an inflatable yellow duck.
The woman and her two children were in the water at Washington Beach when winds carried the little boy away. A witness, Dave Benjamin, said the mother tried to reach her son – but to no avail.
Benjamin ran to notify lifeguards before getting his paddleboard and swimming out. Three other people also tried to help.
The boy’s inflatable duck flipped over as bystanders appeared to get within reach. But ultimately, a nearby boater was able to pull everyone out of the water.
7. SUV Plows Into Woodfield Mall
On Friday, Sept. 20, a sport-utility vehicle smashed into Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg and plowed down the mall’s main walkway. It slammed into kiosks and sent panicked shoppers scrambling for safety.
The Chevy Trailblazer drove through an entrance at the Sears store on the southeast corner and then continued into the interior of the mall.
The driver was apprehended after he drove over a kiosk and then hit a Forever 21. He ran out of the SUV and was caught by police.
The driver, Javier Garcia, 22, was charged with terrorism – which Schaumburg police say is an act that causes substantial damage to a building with five or more businesses. The damage needs to be $100,000 or more.
8. Almost 50 Zion Teachers, Staff Quit En Masse
In late August, nearly 50 teachers and staff in Zion handed in their resignations just days before the start of school. Some former educators in the district called the teaching environment toxic.
The school district said the resignations are part of the ebb and flow of staffing. But two retired educators said the administration has created a tough working environment.
“It’s about the climate and culture, and the climate and culture has become very toxic,” retired teacher Lynn Butera told CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar.
9. Teens Cause Trouble Downtown
On the night of Wednesday, April 17, hundreds of teens yelled, stopped traffic, and ran in the streets of downtown Chicago.
The crowd began at Millennium Park and then moved to State and Lake street. Police said they told most of the teens to go home, and some moved towards public transportation. Officers arrested those who disobeyed orders from police.
Police say they had 200 officers on the scene, and as many as 500 young people were involved. Twenty males and six females were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
10. Family Watched Through Nest Security Cameras
A Lake Barrington family bought their security system to make them feel safe. But in January, Arjun Sud told us that as he approached his infant son’s room and stood outside, he heard a deep, manly voice talking to the boy.
It was an unseen intruder talking to them through their Nest security camera, using obscenities including the ‘N’ word.
Sud believes the hacker also turned their upstairs thermostat to 90 degrees. He noticed that potential danger to their baby the same night. The Suds unplugged their interior cameras, called police and then Nest itself.
Sud said Nest told him: “Well, you should have used a unique password and two-factor authentication, and if you did, you know, that would be that.” He said Nest also refused to allow him to return the security system.
A representative of Google, the parent company of Nest, said Nest was not breached and recent reports of problems were the result of “customers using compromised passwords (exposed through breaches on other websites).” The company said it was introducing features that would actively reject compromised passwords.
11. Man Charged 6 Years Later With Kidnapping, Assaulting 6-Year-Old Girl
In late November, police in south suburban Homewood announced that Christopher Young, 52, of Flossmoor, had been charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 6-year-old girl back in December 2013.
At the time, the girl told police a man came into her Homewood home while she was sleeping, picked her up, took her to his car, and drove her to another house. A test indicated that the girl had been sexually assaulted, but the DNA found on her body and clothes did not match anyone in Illinois State Police records, prosecutors said.
However, it turned out that the DNA found with the girl matched recovered DNA from another sexual assault incident in Flossmoor five years earlier, on Dec. 28, 2008, prosecutors said.
An investigation of both incidents led to Young, prosecutors said.
Police took garbage from Young’s house and submitted it to the state police Crime Lab, prosecutors said. The DNA profile was consistent with the seminal DNA found with the girl, prosecutors said.
Police also obtained a search warrant to take DNA directly from Young, and the girl, now 12, identified him in a photo array as her assailant, prosecutor said. Young was then arrested and charged.
12. August Weekend Shootings Leave Chicago In Shock
In the first weekend in August, seven people were killed and 46 were wounded in gun violence around Chicago. That figure included two mass shootings in less than three hours.
In one incident in Douglas Park, a group of people were standing in the park when someone opened fire from a black Chevrolet Camaro. Nobody was killed, but seven people were wounded.
Less than three hours later, eight people were shot near 18th Street and Kildare Avenue in Lawndale. One man, Demetrius Flowers, 33, was killed and seven others were wounded when shooters opened fire on a large group of people at a block party.
13. Shooting Shuts Down Harlem Avenue
On Friday, Dec. 5, a suspected murder-suicide shut down Harlem Avenue from Roosevelt Road to 16th Street, between Berwyn and Forest Park.
Police say a vehicle was headed south in the 1500 block of Harlem Avenue and was going slow when a woman got out through the passenger door, followed by the male driver.
The man shot the woman and then turned the gun on himself, police said.
14. Father, Son Accused Of Selling Diseased Body Parts
In April, Chicago area father and son Donald Greene Sr. and Jr. were hit with federal charges that they knowingly sold diseased body parts. The duo was behind the since-shuttered Biological Resource Center of Illinois.
CBS 2 first broke the story of precious cargo and broken promises that donated bodies would go to medical research in 2015. The broken promises led the FBI to the center, where authorities said bodies and body parts weren’t donated at all, but in some cases were sold on the black market.
Per a search warrant, a mother was told her son’s tissues would be donated to colleges and research centers. Instead, parts of him sold for $5,000.
It goes on saying bodies known to have HIV, sepsis and hepatitis were kept on ice and then sold, some for up to $100,000.
It’s not illegal to dismember and broker body parts, per se. It is illegal to knowingly sell remains positive for infectious diseases, like what is alleged the Greenes did from 2008 to 2014.
15. The Eddie Johnson Scandal
On Thursday, Oct. 17, police Supt. Eddie Johnson was found slumped over the steering wheel of his sport-utility vehicle near his home in Bridgeport. The following evening, Johnson blamed the incident on a mix-up with his medication.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot later revealed that Johnson had been drinking that night. The mayor said Johnson had told her he had “a couple of drinks with dinner” the night before, and weeks later, he announced his retirement – saying it was not connected to the incident.
Johnson had been scheduled to retire at the end of the year, but on Monday, Dec. 2, Lightfoot fired him. She said Johnson had lied to her about what had happened that night, but was not specific about what she meant.
Sources later told CBS 2 that Johnson had been out drinking with a woman who was not his wife at Ceres Café in the Board of Trade before he was found slumped over the wheel.
The mayor said, had she known at the time what she later learned, she would not have allowed Johnson to simply retire, much less held a press conference to celebrate his 31-year career on the force.