CHICAGO (CBS) -- Jamel Danzy, the Indiana man charged with buying the gun that was used in the murder of Chicago Police Officer Ella French, has been released from custody while he awaits trial on federal charges.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert ordered Danzy's release from federal custody on Wednesday, citing the fact he has no prior criminal record, and that he has a job as a teacher's aide in Merrillville, Indiana. Danzy was released on a $4,500 unsecured bond.
Danzy, 29, is the alleged "straw purchaser" of the weapon that was used to fatally shoot Officer French and seriously wound her partner, who had pulled over a car in West Englewood on Saturday night.
Prosecutors say Danzy bought the gun in March from a gun dealer in Hammond and then gave it to an Illinois resident who had a criminal record and could not legally purchase a weapon. Danzy filed paperwork with the dealer stating that the gun was for himself.
The complaint against Danzy included a photo of the weapon, a Glock Model 44, that investigators said was purchased and then used in the fatal shooting. Danzy also owned the car that was pulled over by French and her two partners, prosecutors said. During questioning at a restaurant in Munster, Indiana, where Danzy works, Danzy said he has been in a relationship with suspect Eric Morgan for three years and sometimes let Morgan drive the vehicle.
As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported, Danzy also dances online – and some of the videos he posts are in a classroom setting. He has been employed as a Head Start teacher's aide in the Merrillville Community School Corporation since 2019.
He has shared pictures of his master's degree, and again, his criminal record is clean.
Federal prosecutors say his seemingly spotless background allowed him to purchase the gun.
With amazing speed, the case against Danzy traced where one of the guns used to shoot the officers came from - and the lapses that allowed it to get in the wrong hands.
As CBS 2's Chris Tye reported Tuesday, the weapon was a Glock model 44, .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Within 12 hours of the Saturday night shooting at 63rd Street and Bell Avenue, police had a thorough history of the weapon - and the flaws that they say put serial number AFBZ467 in the hands of Eric Morgan – one of two brothers now charged in the shooting.
Morgan and his brother, Emonte, are both charged in the shooting – authorities said it was Emonte Morgan who fired the shots that killed French and wounded her partner. Bond was denied for both Morgan brothers in court on Tuesday.
Three years before Eric Morgan was charged with this weekend shooting, he was convicted of armed robbery near Madison, Wisconsin - complicating future access to guns.
So in March of this year, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Morgan leaned on a friend from Hammond - Danzy - to buy him a sport-utility vehicle and a weapon.
Both were used Saturday night, authorities say.
At a Hammond gun shop, Danzy filled out a firearms transaction record required by the Department of Justice.
His crime, federal authorities say, was committed when he answered question 21(a):
"Are you the actual buyer of the firearm?" That came with the words, "WARNING: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person."
He checked yes.
Outside of the restaurant in Hammond where Danzy works, the feds questioned him Sunday afternoon. Federal authorities said in the back seat of a car, "Danzy admitted that he was lying." on question 21(a).
That is the mechanism that made him what is known as a straw man - buying a weapon for someone who cannot.
Tye asked Juan Cloy, a former FBI Task Force agent and an expert on the gun pipeline, what good the system is doing if a paperwork clerical box check allows people to make straw gun purchases like Danzy is accused of doing.
"It's not doing a whole lot of good," Cloy said.
He also said there is no way to target and shut off the valve for straw men.
"No, there's not a real way to do that. Just say, 'OK, I checked the box,' and you know, from there, there's really no checks and balances for that," Cloy said. "No. No sir."
Danzy told authorities that Morgan paid him to purchase the car, but it does not appear he was paid to buy that gun for him.
Danzy, the feds say, knew that Morgan could not buy a gun himself, and that Morgan drove from Chicago to Indiana to pick it up last March.
Police Supt. David Brown issued the following statement Wednesday, expressing outrage at Danzy's release:
"When I heard this afternoon that a federal judge had released the man who illegally purchased and then supplied the gun used to murder Officer Ella French, I could not believe it.
"To say that I am extremely disappointed in U.S Magistrate Judge Jeffery Gilbert's decision to release Jamel Danzy on an unsecured bond today is an understatement. Danzy was released on a $4,500 unsecured bond and court supervision.
"It is an outrage.
"This decision sets a dangerous precedent that straw purchasers like Danzy are not a danger to society, despite the fact that his alleged actions directly led to the murder of a Chicago Police Officer and left another in critical condition.
"The outrageous abundance of illegal firearms in our city and our nation is a major factor driving the violence that is continually cutting short the lives of our loved ones and fellow human beings.
"The role of the justice system, particularly that of federal prosecutors and judges is more important than ever, and by allowing Mr. Danzy to walk free the court has done a disservice to Officer French's memory, to the entire Chicago Police Department, and to the thousands of men and women across the country who work around the clock, day in and day out to stem the violence that is plaguing our communities."
With the bond being unsecured, Danzy did not have to put up any money to be released - though he was ordered not to have any contact with Eric Morgan.
The Merrillville School Corporation said Danzy is still employed. The district is back in session next week, and a decision on his employment status will be made.
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