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Priorities, please

Thursday, Jan 3, 2013

* This is just too much

An alleged arsonist accused of setting a fire that killed his girlfriend and daughter on the West Side last week threatened almost exactly the same deed just three months ago.

Nathaniel Beller filled his bathtub with gasoline and threatened to torch his 4-year-old daughter Neriyah and 9-year-old son Naciere during a tense standoff with Cicero Police on Sept. 9, but neither police nor the Cook County State’s Attorney charged him.

Quickly freed after a psychiatric evaluation, the career criminal allegedly made good on his chilling threat at his mom’s house Saturday. Chicago Police say the mentally ill 29-year-old poured an accelerant on both children and their mother, Taniya Johnson, then started a fire that claimed the lives of Neriyah and Johnson as well as his own.

The troubling new details about how authorities handled Beller’s case emerged Wednesday as his orphaned son continued to fight for his life at Stroger Hospital with burns covering 35 percent of his body.

According to a Cicero Police report, Johnson — who had been beaten by Beller — dialed 911 from her workplace on the afternoon of Sept. 9, telling police that a suicidal Beller was threatening to kill their kids.

Officers arriving at Johnson’s apartment in the 4900 block of West 14th Street heard screaming children, smelled gas and found a distraught Beller barricaded inside, claiming that his girlfriend had cheated on him.

Though Beller released the children unharmed to police during a fraught negotiation — and later claimed he had never planned to hurt them — police found a cigarette lighter and his bathtub filled with gas when they forced their way in and arrested him.

Worse still, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times that Naciere’s socks were soaked with gasoline — a sign that he had likely been placed in the tub filled with fuel.

So, let me get this straight. A 60-something stewardess and a 60-something state legislator get caught accidentally bringing guns through O’Hare security and they’re charged with felonies and a grand jury is empaneled in one case. But a guy who fills a bathtub with gasoline and threatens to torch his kids walks free without being charged by the state’s attorney?

What in the heck is going on over there?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:18 am:

    I wonder how Ray Hanania will spin this.

  2. - dupage dan - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:25 am:

    I remember that incident. I remember being dismayed that no charges were filed.

    Note to SA Alvarez. Inactions have consequences.

  3. - Quinn T. Sential - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    What relevance does the age of the gun law violators have in this discussion. While I understand the questions and concerns about the man and the obvious child endangerment, are you suggesting that gun law violators should be treated differently based on their age?

  4. - grand old partisan - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    One word: guns.

    If Beller had a gun and threatened to shoot his wife and kids there would have been more serious repercussions.

    This is what us “gun nuts” mean when we say that it’s the madness, and not the method, that matters….

  5. - wishbone - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    Obviously you should need a FOIA card to buy gasoline.

  6. - mythoughtis - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:30 am:

    I definitely see the difference between unintentionally carrying an unloaded firearm somewhere that no one else would also have known about, so no real harm could have resulted (provided we can prove the unintentional part)…

    and the intended (abliet insane) harm that could have been (and eventually resulted) done due to gasoline and lighters in an open bathtub with children as the target.

    I agree we should spent our time, focus, and legal efforts against things that are intended to harm rather than things that were not and would not have been.

  7. - wordslinger - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:34 am:

    In no way a defense of Cicero cops and the SA, I’ve noticed an increased vigilance in airport security over the last 11 years or so.

    I wouldn’t recommend walking through O’Hare with a full gasoline can and lighter, either.

  8. - amalia - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:36 am:

    who was in charge of Felony Review when the rejection happened and who is in charge of Felony Review now? You are under a big microscope, ASA FRU Sup. also, a victim who does not cooperate makes cases difficult. always been that way. try dealing with domestic violence cases. it is heartbreaking.

  9. - soccermom - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    This is horrific and inexcusable.

  10. - OneMan - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    I am sure her office decided the explanation they came up with that he was just doing is own dry cleaning at home was correct…

    (Yes, people did do this at one time)

  11. - Fire Anita Alvarez - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:38 am:

    And the Chicago Tribune endorsed Anita for re-election.

  12. - Fair Share - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:39 am:

    Lame excuses. The SA office has already tried to spin this with the lame excuse that the girl friend did not sign a complaint. Based on the facts as stated above, the police and SA can charge without a signed complaint. Sheesh, we spend millions police patrols but when we have a suspect in custody we do nothing.

  13. - the Patriot - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    What surprises is me is that it took this tragedy for to figure out there are problems with law enforcement and prosecution in Chicago. 8-12 people will be shot and killed in the next 7 days in Chicago and their answer is to take guns from people living hundreds of miles away. It is fairly obvious that Chicago has a serious Law enforcement problem.

    On one hand I feel bad, but until the citizens of Chicago put security over political cronisims and they will continue to be subject failed policies of Chicago politicians.

    It FOID comment is a bit tongue in cheek, but it does show that you don’t need a gun to commit a horrible crime. Bad people will find other ways to cause harm. Pehaps had the mother been allowed to carry a .380 this doesn’t happen. Obviously relying on law enforcement did her no good.

  14. - downstate commissioner - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    Sorry, Rich, my removed comment was pretty inflammatory, but there should be some punishment for somebody ignoring the obvious threat from the arsonist, especially considering the nature of the threat. Being burned alive is just terrifying to me. And the thought that someone might accidentally might carry a gun on an airplane doesn’t bother me at all. Rich, I think you summed it up completely: “What the heck is going on over there?”

  15. - Wumpus - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:50 am:

    Tragic! Was it lazy police work, lazy prosecutors? I would like an answer why no charges were filed. I thought there were rules in place so that the abused woman did not have to press charges?

  16. - haverford - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:50 am:

    I don’t know much about the particulars of this case, but I think it’s important to think about in the context of domestic violence. Unfortunately, a large number of DV cases fall through the cracks in our system, even though DV is the leading cause of injury to women in the US.

    This clearly seems to be a ‘fall down on the job’ situation for the police and State’s atty, but there are less flashy cases like this all the time - partner threatens, no action is taken, partner injures or kills partner.

    And, in a case of excellent timing, the Violence Against Women Act was just allowed to expire by the US House. So there’s that.

  17. - StayFree75 - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 10:56 am:

    And while you’re at it, start prosecuting all of the vindictive folks who are wasting DCFS resources and taking time away from kids who actually need help by making false reports to DCFS! First offense was made a felony in 2012, and this abuse of the system is rampant! Start prosecuting!

  18. - walkinfool - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:11 am:


    I heard someone say that the political surprise of 2013, would be more public scrutiny of how prosecutors were doing their jobs.

    And so it starts. Good!

  19. - Don't Get It - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    Rich, of course this is awful. More should have been done. But why the comparison to the gun at the airport incident? Just because this is an awful thing and should have been handled better and with more legal muscle does not mean the gun at the airport thing should have been handled lighter. You bring a gun to an airport, you deserve the penalty. Sorry I don’t think that belongs in this conversation.

  20. - Fan of the Game - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:23 am:

    Truly an abdication of duty on the part of the public officials. Yes, what exactly are the priorities?

  21. - cassandra - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:32 am:

    According to a recent article in the Trib, DCFS took custody of the children in September, not clear what happened after that, so perhaps the juvenile division of the Cook County SA got involved even if the criminal division did not. The children appear to have been released to the mother at some point-presumably either by judge’s order or some other mechanism.

    Given the results, the whole Cook County system seems to have failed these children. Let’s hope there is an independent investigation of all of the relevant parties’ decision-making. This would include domestic violence service providers as well as police, ASA, and DCFS.

  22. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:52 am:

    The first incident wasn’t Chicago. It was Cicero. Different municipality. Which makes me wonder if this is something that dropped through the cracks of different police offices.

    The other thing is that in instances of domestic violence it is not at all uncommon for the victim not to want to file charges against her assailant. And without someone to file, and with an uncooperative witness, it makes it hard for prosecution to succeed.

  23. - onevoter - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    I understand the reason for stating the airport gun incidents. Hard prosecutions for apparently unintended actions versus lack of follow-up in an volatile situation. This from the same SA who totally embarrassed herself on national TV.

  24. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 12:02 pm:

    ===And without someone to file, and with an uncooperative witness, it makes it hard for prosecution to succeed. ===

    You have a 911 call on tape, a tense police standoff and a bathtub full of gasoline.

    Seems like a no-brainer to me, despite what the witness now says.

  25. - Quinn T. Sential - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 12:09 pm:

    You also have a gun; with a loaded magazine, in a suit case knowingly packed in the suitcase by the registered owner, who attempted to bring the same suitcase that he knowingly packed the gun in onto an airplane.

  26. - Belle - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 12:27 pm:

    The CDP seem to complain a lot about these same types of issues: they catch historically bad people and they are let go or the case is mis-handled.
    It seems that Ms Alvarez (or someone) is playing pretty fast and loose with legal priorities.

  27. - Sophocles - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 1:05 pm:

    === The other thing is that in instances of domestic violence it is not at all uncommon for the victim not to want to file charges against her assailant. And without someone to file, and with an uncooperative witness, it makes it hard for prosecution to succeed. ===

    === Seems like a no-brainer to me, despite what the witness now says. ===

    Cermak and others seem to have missed the point. According to the Sun-Times, the mom was at work — not in the apartment — when she called 911 to report her children’s lives were being threatened.

    It was the children, not the mom, who were endangered, so the comparison to domestic violence cases seems apples-to-oranges.

  28. - jimbo (jf) - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 1:07 pm:

    This is a horrible situation and the people responsible for this failure to protect those most in need of our protection should be punished.

    That said. How did this turn into an opportunity for drive-by anti-gun-control comments form 1/2 of the NRA?? How did a question (to me) about how the state had the resources to move so quickly & with maximum publicity in those 2 gun cases while apparently being paralyzed in this case. Turn into a gun-control question. It’s what happened to that family and how to prevent it from happening again that we should be addressing.

  29. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 1:08 pm:

    ===How did this turn into an opportunity for drive-by anti-gun-control comments form 1/2 of the NRA??===

    Agreed. I’ve been deleting recent posts. I think I’ll go back and delete all of them now. Ridiculous arguments.

  30. - Irish - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 1:31 pm:

    First of all I want to qualify that this is not an anti gun control drive-by. However isn’t this an example of what the real problem is?

    Our lawmakers and leaders are more intent on a specific agenda, something that can be boxed uo neatly wrapped and presented as a solution that allows them to say they did something, rather than getting really serious and looking into a real solution? We focus on the tools, or weapons, but overlook the act and what led up to the act being committed and are there other things we can be doing to prevent the act from happening again. We want a one size fits all solution so we don’t have to take the time and sweat to truly find a solution.
    One size does not fit all, and we need to make adjustments in our mental health systems, in our laws, and in our courts, that allows for some common sense application of justice so that these incidents happen less frequently.

  31. - Chitownhv - Thursday, Jan 3, 13 @ 8:26 pm:

    Someone is finally paying attention:

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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