Are Police Efforts To Solve More East St. Louis Criminal Investigations Working?
EAST ST. LOUIS — On the anniversary of her son’s murder, a grieving mother walked through the neighborhood where he was shot and pleaded into a megaphone for any residents who know something that could help the ongoing investigation to go to the police.
La’Tatia Stewart said she’s tried to take action that is unique, like Saturday’s march, so nobody forgets her son Gregory in the time since his May 29, 2020, death.
“We need answers,” her voice rang out in the streets surrounding Bond Avenue in East St. Louis on Saturday. “These people need to be arrested and charged and held accountable for what they did to my son.”
She isn’t alone in a fight for justice in East St. Louis.
“It’s so many families out there that are suffering, and we’re not getting any closure,” Stewart said in an interview Saturday.
It’s a problem that has existed for years. A Belleville News-Democrat investigation found that 75% of the 453 murders from 2000 to 2018 in East St. Louis remained unsolved in 2019.
In 2020, Illinois State Police announced that more help would be coming to East St. Louis.
Have new efforts helped with criminal investigations?
In April 2020, Illinois State Police revealed its plans to redistribute the work for its investigators in southern Illinois. The move reduced the number of counties that the Collinsville office covered so that investigators there could concentrate on violent crime, including homicides in East St. Louis.
Stewart’s son Gregory was one of more than 30 people fatally shot in East St. Louis last year, according to past BND coverage. Officials announced first-degree murders charges in at least six of the 2020 shootings. And at least five East St. Louis homicide investigations have resulted in charges in the first five months of 2021.
Illinois State Police also created a new Public Safety Enforcement Group in December made up of state police officers, East St. Louis police officers and federal officers. U.S. Attorney Steven Weinhoeft said that the group’s goal was to increase the number of crimes investigated and to improve and increase the community’s participation.
East. St. Louis Police Chief Kendall Perry said this week that the department has prosecuted over 100 cases since the Public Safety Enforcement Group formed.
“The partnership with PSEG helps us to prosecute far more cases than before they came,” Perry said. “We only had one or two detectives working cases before they came. Now, we have five or six investigators on a particular case.”
‘I’m gonna fight ‘til the last breath that I have for justice’
Perry emphasized the important role the community plays in closing investigations, something Stewart also understands. It’s the reason she keeps going back to Bond Avenue to encourage potential witnesses to help with her son’s case.
Gregory Stewart, a father of five, was shot outside 2408 Bond Avenue around 11 p.m. May 28, 2020, and died at the hospital the following day. He was 31 years old.
On Saturday, Stewart stressed that tips to the CrimeStoppers hotline, 1-866-371-8477, are anonymous and that the reward for information is up to $7,000. She’s asking for donations to keep increasing the reward through CrimeStoppers at stlrcs.org/donate.
Perry said he could not discuss the specifics of the case but said the investigation is ongoing.
“I wish we could bring closure to the case right now and give that family some closure, but we are still working on it,” Perry said. “We need the community to work with us. If someone sees something about to jump off, call the police. If you see someone breaking the law, call the police. The people who live in the neighborhood have to be willing to call us and tell us what they saw. We can’t be every place at one time.
“... The bottom line is this gun violence must stop.”
Stewart says she gets frustrated with the lack of answers. But she’s not giving up.
“I want my day in court so I can face them and let them know what they have done to my family,” she said. “... I’m gonna fight ‘til the last breath that I have for justice. … Then, me and my family, we can start our healing process.”
Lexi Cortes, Carolyn P. Smith and Mike Koziatek are reporters with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.