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4 teens held without bond in slaying of off-duty Chicago officer

A mourner wipes away tears while waiting for an evening vigil to begin for Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston outside the 5th District police station on May 9, 2023. Preston was fatally shot after ending her shift early on May 6. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Chicago police Officer Aréanah Preston was still in uniform when she parked her car after finishing a shift and walked toward her home.

Three people then jumped out of a sedan and ran toward her. Surveillance video recorded muzzle flashes, and Preston fell.

Cook County prosecutors on Wednesday laid out chilling details during a bond hearing for four teenagers accused of killing the officer after committing several robberies. The group set out on the deadly crime spree, prosecutors alleged, after a girlfriend of one of the suspects said she wanted money for a barbecue.

After they killed Preston, they sold her gun, prosecutors said.

Trevell Breeland, 19, Joseph Brooks, 19, Jakwon Buchanan, 18, and Jaylan Frazier, 16, are facing murder charges as well as a slew of other felonies, including robbery and arson, authorities said. Cook County Judge David Kelly ordered the teens held without bail Wednesday, pointing to what he described as a “mountain of evidence” from prosecutors.

“These four defendants are alleged to have engaged in a very violent crime spree,” Kelly said.

The courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Court Building was packed with Preston’s family as well as police officers sitting in the gallery and lining the walls.

After the bond hearing, Preston’s mother, Dionne Mhoon, grew tearful as she described a tight-knit family that was getting ready to celebrate Preston’s graduation from Loyola University for her master’s degree.

“She was supposed to be in the courtroom,” Mhoon said. “Here I am, in the courtroom for her.”

Police Department leaders announced the charges earlier Wednesday, calling Preston a “fallen hero.”

Interim Chicago police Superintendent Eric Carter said the death was a tragedy for the city, and Tyrone Pendarvis, commander of the 5th District where Preston served, said she was a rising star whose death affected all who know her.

“She will truly be missed,” Pendarvis said.

The last person who Preston arrested was moved to tears upon hearing news of her death, Pendarvis added.

“Her last arrest that evening, even the arrestee, once finding out the news of what happened, she wept,” Pendarvis said. “That speaks to the credit of Officer Preston because she connected with everyone.”

The spree began around midnight Saturday when Buchanan’s girlfriend and another woman picked him up along with the other three teenagers, Assistant State’s Attorney Anne McCord Rogers told the judge, reading from a bond proffer filed with the court.

The girlfriend had told Buchanan she wanted money for a barbecue, the proffer said. The four teenagers were armed with guns and dressed in black with face coverings during the crime spree, according to the document.

The four defendants carried out several robberies Saturday morning before they fatally shot Preston, the proffer alleged.

The group first allegedly drove to the 900 block of East 46th Street and encountered a 33-year-old woman parking her car near a restaurant, authorities said. As she got out of the car, a Dodge Avenger with the defendants “came to a screeching halt” near where she was standing, authorities said.

The four armed teens got out of the car and robbed her, the proffer stated.

The teens then stole a red Kia while the assailants’ female friends remained in the Dodge, the proffer said. The four defendants then drove around in the Kia “looking for additional people to rob,” according to prosecutors.

The teens pulled up to a home in the 10000 block of South Wallace Street where two women were talking, the proffer said. They pushed the women to the ground and robbed them, prosecutors alleged. They later drove away and allegedly committed another robbery, taking a man’s cellphone and keys to his Tesla, authorities said.

Finally, the teens drove near Preston’s home in the 8100 block of South Blackstone Avenue, where they allegedly shot and killed her, authorities said.

The attackers ran back to the sedan, and one person returned to grab her gun, court documents stated.

A ShotSpotter alert went off at 1:42 a.m., but “due to a backlog in the district, police did not immediately respond,” the bond proffer said. Police on Wednesday said they responded to a 911 call from Preston’s Apple watch, which signaled she had been in a traffic crash.

Officers attempted to revive Preston, according to court documents, before she was rushed to the University of Chicago Medical Center. with gunshot wounds to the face and neck.

Brian McDermott, the CPD’s chief of patrol, declined to comment on the ShotSpotter alert and officers’ response.

“This is a time we should be focusing on grieving while sending our thoughts and prayers to the Preston family and being there for Aréanah’s friends, fellow Chicago police officers,” McDermott said. “This is a terribly tragic incident and I don’t believe we should be placing blame on anyone other than squarely on the backs of the four offenders just charged with murder.”

The ShotSpotter system has long been seen as problematic and Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson has promised not to renew a city contract for its operation.

After the shooting, the teens parked the Kia in an empty lot and torched it, prosecutors alleged.

That evening, Frazier called a friend and told him about Preston’s killing, the proffer said. He allegedly asked the friend if he “had seen the news about a police officer being killed” and said it was “his work.”

When the friend asked what happened, Frazier replied that the group was “going to rob her but the female shot at them,” authorities said.

”One of the guys he was with shot back at the cop and killed her,” Frazier told the friend, according to prosecutors.

Cellphone data placed Brooks and Breeland at several of the crime scenes, prosecutors said, and the Kia and Dodge vehicles were caught on surveillance cameras. The women in the Dodge and a family member of one of the teens identified them in photo arrays and on surveillance video, according to prosecutors.

Police officers searched the Dodge and found ID and credit cards belonging to the first robbery victim, prosecutors alleged. Police also matched bullet casings from the shooting scene to a gun recovered when officers made arrests in the case.

During the hearing, the judge described the teens’ criminal history as “extensive” despite their young age.

Breeland was on probation after he was arrested in July 2021 and charged with several gun felonies, according to court records. Police pulled over a vehicle Breeland was riding in after being called to the area for a ShotSpotter alert and found a gun under the passenger seat where he was sitting, a police report said.

He pleaded guilty in January to one count of illegally possessing a weapon and was sentenced to two years’ probation and 50 hours of community service. He was also charged in December 2021 with misdemeanor domestic battery for allegedly pushing his mother down the stairs, court records show. The case was stricken from the docket in December, records show.

The teens also had records in juvenile court, prosecutors said.

Preston worked for CPD for three years, according to department officials. Hers is considered a line-of-duty death, which entitles her family to financial assistance from the state.

Preston’s relatives described her as “happy” and “intelligent” and dedicated to her career in criminal justice. A vigil was held for her Tuesday evening.

Mhoon, Preston’s mother, said she strongly emphasized education while raising her daughters.

“I think the hole in our hearts will never be healed,” she said, growing tearful.

Mhoon said she feels sorry for the teens charged in her daughter’s slaying, seemingly without someone in their corner pushing them to get an education and grow up to be whomever they wanted to be.

“Who I really feel sorry for is those boys,” she said. “Nobody told them they were loved. Nobody told them you could do anything, like I constantly preached to my daughter.”


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