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As summer violence rages on, a Chicago gang member’s jail recordings offer a rare look at the city’s entrenched gun culture

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 8/5/2019
Police work the scene where four people were shot on the 5600 block of South Paulina Street Sunday July 7, 2019, in Chicago. © Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS Police work the scene where four people were shot on the 5600 block of South Paulina Street Sunday July 7, 2019, in Chicago.

CHICAGO — Reputed Chicago gang member Gaston Tucker was in custody earlier this year for allegedly fleeing police with a loaded pistol when he had an apparent moment of clarity about his place in the city's entrenched gun culture.

In recorded calls from the Cook County Jail, Tucker, who'd recently served more than a decade in prison for shooting someone, was quite philosophical about landing back behind bars, according to federal court records.

After all, if he hadn't been arrested carrying the gun, he almost certainly would've been caught for something far worse — perhaps even murder, Tucker allegedly said in the calls.

"Everything happens for a reason, man," Tucker told a friend three days after his February arrest, according to a federal criminal complaint filed last month. "Think about it, man. This summertime, what I was doing, where I was headed this summertime, man, I would have gotten caught shooting that mother*****r ... That would've been life in (prison)."

The same call offered a rare moment of candor by a reputed gang member on how the reality of the city's streets had forced him to carry a "pole" — street slang for a gun — for protection, according to the complaint. The only solution, he said, was to move out of Chicago.

"Boy, I quit," authorities quoted Tucker as saying on the call. "I can't carry no pole no more. I'm through. Only way I gotta do that is I gotta get out of Chicago. ... I can't be without it in Chicago, you know how that s**t go."

Tucker's c'est la vie attitude on the calls reflects a stark honesty about the gun violence that continues to rage this summer in pockets of the South and West sides. Just last weekend, more than 40 people were shot on the city's streets, including a 12-year-old girl who was wounded in the leg while sitting on a porch in the West Englewood neighborhood and two mothers killed in a drive-by attack at an Englewood intersection where an anti-violence group has camped out every summer day since 2015.

Tucker, meanwhile, was arraigned Thursday in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for allegedly being a felon in possession of a handgun — a charge carrying up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

In earlier arguing to hold Tucker without bond, federal prosecutors blasted his attempt to find a "silver lining" in his arrest, saying Tucker's insistence on carrying a gun "directly contributes to the violence that is sadly afflicting our district and our city especially during the summer months."

"Frankly, your honor, you should take him at his word," Assistant U.S. Attorney Devlin Su said during the July 9 detention hearing. "Because if he's not detained he's going to be out there this summertime, shooting his gun, getting caught for attempted murder and murder. It doesn't get more serious than that."

Tucker's court-appointed attorney, Daniel Hesler, said Tucker had been doing well since being released from prison late last year, finding work as a dishwasher and reconnecting with his mother and sister. While incriminating, the jail recordings also indicate that Tucker was ready to put his gun-toting past behind him, Hesler said.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez agreed with prosecutors, saying in her order denying bond that it was clear Tucker "feels that he is stuck between the crosshairs of Chicago."

"So will he always make the right decision? I'm not sure of that," Valdez said.

Gaston, 32, was arrested Feb. 17 after a red Nissan sedan he was riding in was flagged by a Chicago police officer for an alleged parking violation in the 1300 block of North Sedgwick Street, in the Old Town neighborhood, court records show.

During the stop, Tucker allegedly handed the officer an Illinois Department of Corrections identification card that is given to parolees until they can obtain a driver's license or state ID.

After the officer went back to her squad car to check the information, Tucker got out of the Nissan and took off on foot, police alleged. Security footage from a nearby building showed Tucker turn right on Goethe Street and cut through a parking lot, bending over and throwing something under a dumpster as he fled, according to the charges.

Police later found a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson semiautomatic handgun under the dumpster that was loaded with 14 live rounds, the charges alleged. He was arrested hours later at his home in the 2000 block of North Kostner Avenue.

At the time, Tucker had been free for only about two months on his previous conviction for aggravated battery with a firearm, court records show. In that case, he was originally charged with attempted murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in exchange for a 13-year prison term, according to the records.

Tucker's criminal record also includes felony drug convictions in 2004 and 2005, court records show.

The federal charges alleged that four days after his arrest on the gun charge, Tucker was recorded in a jail call telling an acquaintance that his father had warned him when he was released from prison that other gang members "will try to get up on you and do stuff to you."

"How do you think that plays with a mother*****r's conscience?" the complaint quoted Tucker as saying. "I can't let a mother*****r get up on me."

On another call a few hours later, Tucker predicted that he would have been in the middle of the summer violence if he hadn't been locked up.

"I'd be locked up for attempt murder, murder," he was quoted as saying. "Or what if I (was) just locked up for shooting my gun, period? That would have hurt, hurt, hurt. This don't."

During a preliminary hearing on the gun charge, FBI Special Agent Alison Foy testified that Tucker was clearly "expressing relief that he was arrested only for the illegal possession of the firearm in a case that doesn't hurt" as much because of the relatively light penalties — at least in Cook County court, where he thought he'd be prosecuted.

The jail calls also indicated that Tucker was second-guessing his actions on the day he was arrested.

The final call referred to in the criminal complaint came on Feb. 26. During the conversation with an unidentified woman, Tucker tried to explain why he ran with the gun instead of just staying in the car and claiming it wasn't his, suggesting that he was too old school not to run from police and try to ditch the weapon.

"Too much of a real n——, man, that's it," the complaint quoted Tucker as saying. "I learned my lesson, anyway."

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