Putting the guns down: A staggering number of shootings don’t make it to court

Target 3

This article was updated to include additional statistics gathered days after the original post.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA)– City leaders, nonprofits, parents, teachers, and the community as a whole continue to call for an end to gun violence in Central Illinois. It’s no secret it’s a complex issue without a clear solution.

In the search for solutions, our Target 3 investigative team is taking the first step: Getting some answers to lingering questions.

For example:

  • How often do shootings result in charges?
  • Where are the guns coming from?
  • Who is behind the violence?
  • Why are kids so involved?

We sat down for a candid conversation with our largest county’s chief prosecuting officer to get to the bottom of it.

“It’s not turf battles, it’s not organized gangs that are fighting over drug sales or that sort of thing. It’s really relationship-based.”

Julia rietz, champaign county state’s attorney

According to the Champaign County State’s Attorney, Julia Rietz, in the past two to five years, more and more gun-related cases are hitting her desk.

“I’ll wake up in the morning and turn on WCIA, and I’ll see you out reporting about a shots-fired call or a house that’s hit by gunfire,” she said, adding, “…But not all of those cases are making it here to my office.”

Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz sits in her office at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana.

It’s up to Rietz to take evidence like police reports, suspects and witness testimony, and officially file charges. However, she said those last two pieces to the puzzle are tough to come by.

“We have to have a suspect and we have to have witnesses because we have to prove our case in court beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rietz explained.

She said, often, even when there are witnesses, they won’t talk.

Between her office and local law enforcement, Rietz said Champaign County is tracking how many gun offenses police have responded to compared to the number that results in charges.

From Jan. 1 to June 1, 2021, there have been 200 “shots fired” reports in Champaign County. Rietz said that means any incident where law enforcement responded because a gun was fired, including shootings and murders.

In response to a Target 3 data request, Rietz found that of those 200 reports, 25 were received and reviewed by her office. That’s 12.5%.

“We might know this much about a situation,” she said, making a circle with her arm.

Making a much smaller circular motion by rotating just her wrist, she added, “When we do an investigation, this much might be actual credible evidence that we can maybe put in front of a jury.”

She said this information includes gun-related calls from the Champaign, Urbana, and University of Illinois Police Departments, and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office.

“So we might hear on the streets about all kinds of stuff, or see on social media or whatever. There might be this much information,” Rietz gestured again, “…but this is the credible evidence.”

Of those 25 cases that were reviewed by the State’s Attorney, one was charged in federal court, two are pending further investigation, and criminal charges have been filed by Rietz’s office in the remaining 22.

The remaining 175 cases are under investigation, according to Rietz.

More detail on the “shots fired” cases from the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office:

  • There are 26 total defendants in 22 cases filed:
  • 12 of them are in custody waiting resolution.
  • 5 of them have posted bond and are out of custody, waiting resolution.
  • 3 have not been arrested, warrants are outstanding.
  • 1 case was returned to law enforcement for further investigation.
  • 1 case was charged federally.
  • 3 cases have been sentenced to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
  • 1 case was dismissed because the defendant had an alibi.

Here’s what we know about the cases that make it to court:

“Much of the gun violence that we’re seeing right now is retaliatory,” Rietz said.

“It’s not turf battles, it’s not organized gangs that are fighting over drug sales or that sort of thing. It’s really relationship-based.”

On top of that, minors are involved on a fairly regular basis.

“We have a significant increase in young people, under 18, carrying firearms, using firearms,” Rietz confirmed.

Entrance to the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center in Urbana

When we sat down with the State’s Attorney Thursday, there were 10 juveniles awaiting trial from the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center. Six (or 60%) of the cases involved firearms, ranging from unlawful possession, to discharge, and two kids faced murder charges.

“I would say the majority of gun-related cases that we’re dealing with involve young people between the ages of 15 and 25,” Rietz added.

Macon County Courthouse in Decatur

Five juveniles in total await trial in Macon County, according to State’s Attorney Scott Rueter, all for gun-related charges.

So, why are kids increasingly involved?

“I don’t know if I’m the right person to answer that question,” Rietz responded. “There’s a lot of research going on right now.”

But the trend is clear and concerning.

Overwhelmingly the guns used in the crimes you’re seeing on the news night-after-night are illegal, Rietz added. Where they’re coming from is also unclear, but something Rietz said law enforcement is addressing.

Target 3 is continuing to have these tough conversations. Keep an eye on our webpage for updates.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.