By Bob Uphues
Despite increasing the number of security personnel and off-duty police officers to patrol the common areas of North Riverside Park Mall in the wake of a non-fatal shooting inside the shopping center in late June, officials there now face the fallout from another violent incident involving a gun.
The latest incident – the third on mall property since the end of May – happened inside the shopping center on the afternoon of Sept. 25 in the upper-level common area near the former Sears store.
"In part, there seems to be a common denominator," said North Riverside Police Chief Carlos Garcia of the three incidents this year. "These are neighborhood problems coming here. They are not random acts. … We're fortunate no other innocent people got injured."
North Riverside Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. said he was scheduled to meet with the new general manager of the mall on Oct. 1 to discuss last week's shooting and measures the mall will be taking to ensure the safety of visitors.
But, even an increased police presence and more security staff, especially on weekends have not been able to head off all trouble.
"To me, it's shortsighted to blame the mall," said Hermanek, who added that shopping malls by their very nature are difficult to secure due to the myriad entry points. "Either we have to search everybody or nobody, and it'd be difficult to do at the mall anyway with 15 entrances."
Hermanek echoed Garcia's contention that the violent incidents at the mall this summer – the May 31 fatal shooting of a 24-year-old man outside Olive Garden and the June 26 shooting of a man on the lower level of the shopping center near J.C. Penney – both were targeted shootings, the result of ongoing feuds elsewhere.
"It makes it sound like the mall is dangerous, but it would've happened anywhere they met," Hermanek said. "I'm still confident it's a safe place, but with society the way it is, you can't guarantee people's safety anywhere."
Glenn Lindholm, the mall's new general manager, asked to comment on the latest incident, emphasized the safety measures officials have taken in response to events earlier this year.
"Our security team's handling of Friday's isolated domestic incident demonstrated the effectiveness of North Riverside Park Mall's robust security program – from securing the mall to alerting tenants and working with the North Riverside Police Department to identify and apprehend the suspect," Lindholm said in an email. "We care deeply about the safety of our property and the people who visit us. We take this incident seriously and continue to work to ensure North Riverside Park Mall is a safe place for shopping and dining within the community."
One shot fired
Some of the details of the Sept. 25 incident remain unclear, because the 27-year-old gunshot victim reportedly has not cooperated with the investigation, apparently out of fear of reprisal. The victim was shot once through the left thigh, with the bullet also penetrating through his lower right leg.
It appears that only one shot was fired, and that it may have been fired from inside a fanny pack on the suspected gunman's waist during a physical altercation between him and the victim.
Investigators reported recovering the bullet from the floor near Entrance 2, down the hall from the area where the shooting took place. Paramedics took the victim to Loyola University Medical Center where he was treated and released the next day.
Police have charged two people, including the suspected gunman after arresting them near the intersection of Harlem Avenue and 16th Street in Berwyn just minutes after fleeing the scene the shooting in a 2012 gold Chevy Equinox.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office approved charging the alleged shooter, 27-year-old James Sutton, of Chicago, with aggravated battery with a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance. Sutton was also charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct.
Aggravated battery with a firearm is a Class X felony, an offense that carries a possible prison sentence of between six and 30 years, if convicted.
Police reported recovering the weapon they believe Sutton used, a 9 mm Glock handgun, from the floor of the Chevy.
Sutton is being held without bond at Cook County Jail following a bond hearing on Sept. 28. His next court date is Oct. 16 at Maybrook.
A 24-year-old Chicago man arrested in the company of Sutton was charged with misdemeanor reckless conduct.
Grew out of earlier conflict
According to North Riverside police, the parties involved knew each other to some extent. The victim was shopping at the mall with his girlfriend when they encountered Sutton and the other man at about 3:15 p.m.
The girlfriend's cousin reportedly is in a relationship with Sutton, and the girlfriend told police she had a prior run-in with him and had been trying to obtain an order of protection against Sutton.
It's not completely clear who initiated the physical altercation at North Riverside Park Mall, but the victim's girlfriend suspected Sutton was armed, police said, and was heard to yell out, "He got a gun" shortly before the gunshot.
Officials closed down the mall as investigators processed the scene using evidence technicians from the Illinois State Police and the Cook County Sheriff's Police as well as investigators from the west suburban Major Case Assistance Team.
After obtaining a search warrant, North Riverside police searched the Chevy Equinox. Inside they reported finding a plastic bag containing 10 off-white pills, suspected to be ecstasy, 12 small individually sealed packages of cannabis and about $1,700 in cash.