The reputed gang member accused of gunning down 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton last month was on the street even though he had been arrested three times in connection with break-ins and trespassing while on probation for a weapons conviction in recent months, the Tribune has learned.
In two of those arrests, including one just 2 1/2 months ago, Cook County probation officials failed to notify prosecutors or the judge that Michael Ward had been arrested on the new misdemeanor charges and allegedly violated his probation.
The head of the county's probation department acknowledged Monday that his office fell short in its responsibilities and vowed to find out what went wrong.
"There should have been a violation filed, but for some reason there was not," said Jesus Reyes, director of the Cook County Adult Probation Department. "Absolutely, we will investigate."
Reyes emphasized, though, that it was unclear whether any of Ward's alleged probation violations would have led to his being sent to prison for an extended time. The probation department handles thousands of cases each year, and often alleged violations lead only to short jail stints — especially on misdemeanor arrests or if the new charges are soon dropped, as happened in two of Ward's arrests, he said.
"I don't know if something that minor would have taken him off the street for very long," Reyes said.
Today, before Ward’s appearance in bond court, prosecutors moved to have him found in violation of probation and held him without bond on the murder charge until a hearing next week.
Bob Loeb, a veteran criminal defense attorney and former county prosecutor, said many judges are reluctant to clog up their calls with probation violations.
"They'll hold them for a while to show them the inside of the jail," Loeb said. "If the new charge is dismissed, then often they don't proceed on the (violation of probation) because they've already accomplished scaring the guy. So nothing else happens."
Ward, then 17, was arrested in October 2011 after Chicago police officers responding to a call of a person with a gun in the 3700 block of South Langley Avenue spotted him running away in clothing matching the description of the suspect, according to court records.
Officers chased Ward and saw him throw a handgun into a grassy area behind a building, the records say. The weapon, a loaded Cobra .38 Special, was later found under a bush, according to court records. Ward told the officers that he had the gun "because the boys from Lake Park were after me," apparently a reference to gang members from a nearby neighborhood.
Ward pleaded guilty to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in January 2012 and was sentenced to two years of probation by Judge Nicholas Ford. As part of his probation, Ward was ordered confined to his home at night for the first six months, court records show. He also was instructed to complete his high school diploma and attend an anti-violence forum.
Less than three months later, Ward was arrested on the South Side and charged with breaking into a car, but probation officials didn't notify prosecutors that constituted a violation of his probation, Reyes said. At his next court date, prosecutors dropped the charge, records show.
In July, Ward was again arrested on charges he broke into a vehicle. This time, the probation office alerted the state's attorney's office, prompting prosecutors to ask that his probation be rescinded. In August, Ford ordered Ward held without bail, according to the records.
But the break-in charges were dropped the next month when the complaining witness did not appear in court. Three days later, Ford ordered Ward released from custody, records show.
Court records show Ward, now 18, picked up his third arrest in late November. He was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, but probation officials again failed to notify prosecutors, according to Reyes. The charge was dropped in December when a witness failed to show up in court, records show.
Police also arrested Ward numerous times as a juvenile on charges ranging from robbery to battery to marijuana possession, court records show. At least two of those arrests resulted in convictions, and Ward spent time in 2011 on juvenile probation.
Tribune reporter Carlos Sadovi contributed