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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Man Charged With Shooting Culinary Arts Student Dakotah Earley Also ‘Terrorized’ City During Robbery Spree, Prosecutors Say

Police think the 19-year-old was involved in a crew responsible for 20-30 robberies on the North Side in the weeks leading up to the shooting.

Dakotah Earley, 23, is recovering from multiple surgeries and starting to communicate through hand signals after being robbed and shot May 6 in Lincoln Park, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said.
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LINCOLN PARK — A 23-year-old culinary arts student who was robbed and shot in his head in Lincoln Park identified his attacker from a photo lineup, circling his picture and giving investigators a thumbs up, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Dakotah Earley was shot three times last week in a chilling attack caught on nearby surveillance video. One of his legs has been amputated and he has had reconstructive surgery on his jaw, his family said. Despite his critical injuries, he was one of five people to positively identify 19-year-old Tyshon Brownlee as the person who robbed them at gunpoint during a two-day North Side crime spree on May 5-6 that culminated in Earley’s shooting, prosecutors said.

Brownlee was arrested Sunday. Calling his actions “a crime spree,” a Cook County judge ordered him held without bail Tuesday on charges of attempted murder in Earley’s shooting and armed robbery in a series of other attacks.

When police arrested Brownlee at his parents’ Chicago home, they found a 9mm handgun, a bright yellow hoodie matching the description of the robber’s and several things stolen from victims, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said in court.

Brownlee then confessed on video to shooting and robbing Earley and to four other robberies, Murphy said.

Meanwhile, in a twist, police revealed Brownlee himself a victim in another high-profile crime in the past week — a Michigan Avenue shooting near the Bean on May 10. Brownlee was shot while in a car that night and went to the hospital. Police said Brownlee was already a “person of interest” in the Lincoln Park shooting, but he fled the hospital before police could question him, police said.

Police believe Brownlee was involved in a robbery crew that’s responsible for a pattern of 20-30 robberies in the weeks leading up to the shooting across Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Edgewater and Uptown, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said in a newsletter update to his constituents.

“We have five innocent victims and a community that’s been terrorized,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said at a press conference Tuesday to announce the charges. “This is simply unacceptable.”

Credit: GoFundMe
Dakotah Earley.

‘A Crime Spree Threatening People At Gunpoint’

The string of robberies started around 10 p.m. May 5, with three of the attacks happening within 30 minutes, Murphy said.

In that first attack, a woman was walking while on her phone in the 3000 block of North Racine Avenue and wearing over-the-ear headphones, Murphy said. The victim heard shots and Brownlee approached her from behind with a handgun, Murphy said.

Brownlee grabbed the victim’s headphones and demanded her phone and bag, which she handed over, Murphy said. Pointing the gun at her, Brownlee told the victim he would count down from five as he demanded the phone’s passcode, Murphy said.

That’s when Brownlee noticed another female walking by on the opposite side of the street and ran toward her, Murphy said. He threw the first victim’s belongings down and started robbing the second person in the 1100 block of West Barry Avenue, Murphy said.

The second victim was walking home from work with headphones in when she heard someone screaming on the other side of the street, Murphy said. She initially thought she was witnessing a domestic argument and continued her walk home before Brownlee approached her with a handgun, Murphy said.

Brownlee took the second victim’s phone and demanded the passcode, Murphy said. She started saying random numbers because she was scared and couldn’t remember her phone, so Brownlee took her headphones off and asked for the passcode again, Murphy said.

After robbing the second victim, Brownlee went back to the driver’s side door of a small white car, pointed a gun at his first victim and ran away, Murphy said.

The first victim memorized the car’s license plate number by repeating it to herself until she got home and could write it down and call police, Murphy said. The vehicle was a stolen white BMW sedan, Murphy said.

The second victim ran home to her apartment and called some friends to tell them about the attack, Murphy said. Within a few days, one of her friends saw a news report about an attempted murder, which prompted her to report her robbery to police, Murphy said.

Eventually, the stolen car was recovered and officers found the second victim’s work ID with her name on it in the backseat, Murphy said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx looks on as Superintendent David Brown exits from behind the lectern during a press conference at Chicago Police headquarters on May 17, 2022.

The third robbery happened about 25 minutes later in the 2900 block of North Racine, Murphy said. The third victim was walking to a friend’s house when Brownlee, armed with a handgun, approached him, Murphy said.

Brownlee pointed the gun directly at the victim’s chest and demanded his phone, which he promptly handed over, Murphy said. Brownlee then demanded the victim empty his pockets, which he did while handing over his wallet, Murphy said.

Brownlee, still pointing the gun at his chest, demanded the victim’s phone and passcode, Murphy said. He complied. As Brownlee ran to a nearby car to flee the scene, he threatened to come back “hot” if the password to his phone did not work, Murphy said. The third victim immediately notified police.

The fourth robbery happened about 3 a.m. May 6 in the 1100 block of West Fullerton Avenue, Murphy said.

A DePaul University student was walking back to his dorm when Brownlee got out of a white car and approached him, Murphy said. Brownlee pointed a handgun and demanded his cellphone and wallet, which the victim handed over, Murphy said.

Brownlee then got back into the white car and drove off, Murphy said. The student called 911 and officers recovered surveillance footage that shows the robbery, Murphy said.

Brownlee attacked Earley about five minutes later in the 1300 block of West Webster Avenue, Murphy said.

In Earley’s robbery, which was caught on a neighbor’s surveillance video, the attacker robs the student, who then charges at the gunman.

“Traditional instincts are to fight back, and that immediately leads to [the] shooting,” Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said Tuesday. “A lot of times what happens with these robbery crews, they get more and more violent as they go along. And then a lot of times, when somebody does fight back, they obviously have these firearms and, as you can see, are willing to use them.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
CPD’s Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan speaks during a press conference at Chicago Police headquarters on May 17, 2022.

The attack left Earley on life support as he underwent emergency surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, according to police and a GoFundMe page raising money for his medical expenses.

“We recognize the road ahead for him is long and I wish him a strong recovery,” Foxx said.

Earley’s jaw is wired shut after surgery and he can’t speak, so he’ll need speech therapy and a voice box in order to talk, Hopkins said during a community safety meeting Monday. But he’s started communicating with hand signals.

“That’s been very encouraging,” Hopkins said.

When investigators zeroed in on Brownlee as his attacker, they brought a series of photos to Earley. He circled Brownlee’s photo and gave a thumbs up when asked if that was his attacker, Murphy said.

When asked how he attacked him, Earley mimicked a gun with his hand, Murphy said.

Investigators also identified Brownlee in part because he used a credit card taken from a victim in one of the robberies, police said. Video surveillance from a gas station in Berwyn showed Brownlee using the card, Murphy said.

The robbers wore ski masks and drove stolen vehicles overnight around neighborhoods, targeting unsuspecting people walking alone or in small groups, Hopkins said. The attackers would jump from the vehicle with guns drawn and rob peoples’ phones, purses and wallets.

Neighbors Helped Police Make An Arrest, Alderman Says

Hopkins said he’s talked to Earley’s mother every day since the shooting, and learned he moved to Chicago six months ago to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. He had recently completed a culinary arts course and was working at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

The alderman lives near the scene of the shooting, and Earley’s mother has asked Hopkins to introduce her to two of his neighbors who ran to help her son and gave him first aid before police and paramedics arrived, Hopkins said.

“They woke to the sound of gunfire at 3 o’clock in the morning and ran out their door without hesitation or concern for their own safety,” Hopkins said. “His mom wants to meet them to thank them for what they did for her son.”

Neighbors were also “extraordinarily helpful” in assisting police with their investigation, Hopkins said. They provided surveillance videos and other key evidence to help them find a suspect.

“[Neighbors] shared eye-witness accounts with responding officers, which ultimately helped commence the investigation in the right direction, leading to the attempted murder charges announced today,” Hopkins said.

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