Former suburban storeowner faces trial after shooting at thief
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter June 18, 2012 12:23AM
Dawoud Zoubeidi, a former storeowner charged with gun crimes after he fired at a robber, stands outside of his former store, The Connection Wear at 1571 E. Sibley Blvd., Calumet City, Ill. Thursday, June 14, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: July 19, 2012 6:10AM
Did a south suburban storeowner fire at a fleeing thief in self-defense?
Or was he engaging in a reckless act of vigilante justice?
The answer may come in August when Dawoud “David” Zoubeidi is scheduled to stand trial on felony weapons charges for firing three shots at a man who sprinted out of his Calumet City store with stolen leather jackets.
Zoubeidi apparently didn’t hit the thief, who dropped the jackets and escaped in a waiting car. He and his attorney, Patrick O’Byrne, said he was justified in firing his .40-caliber pistol. Zoubeidi claims the thief flashed a pistol in his waistband first.
“He had the right to defend himself,” O’Byrne said. “The anti-gun climate punishes the law-abiding citizen.”
Cook County prosecutors feel otherwise. They have charged Zoubeidi with reckless discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.
Prosecutors declined to comment about the case.
Zoubeidi said he thinks he was charged because he fired his gun outside the store across the street from an elementary school.
O’Bryne said no children were in jeopardy because his client fired in the opposite direction of the school, which he said is proven by a bullet that struck a wall.
Legal experts said a prosecutor’s decision to charge a suspect who wields a gun to commit a crime is usually straightforward. But the decision about whether to charge a homeowner or a businessman who fires at a bad guy is not always as clear-cut.
“Prosecutors are allowed and encouraged to exercise discretion — and in doing so they don’t have to merely follow the letter of the law, but they have the opportunity to be fair as well,” said Robert Loeb, a former Cook County prosecutor and an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s law school.
Prosecutors also must consider whether a judge or jury will be sympathetic to the person claiming self-defense, Loeb said.
Consider the case of 80-year-old Englewood tavern owner Homer “Tank” Wright. He was arrested in March after he shot and wounded a teenager allegedly trying to break into Wright’s home behind the tavern.
Police learned he had two prior gun convictions and was not legally allowed to possess a firearm. Prosecutors initially charged Wright with unlawful use of a firearm but dropped the case in April in the wake of community protests.
Prosecutors said the case against Wright was brought “in good faith and in accordance with the law” but was dismissed “in the best interests of justice.”
Zoubeidi said prosecutors should use similar discretion and drop the charges against him.
“I would understand this if I was a gang-banger, but I am a law-abiding citizen,” he said.
Zoubeidi, 29, stressed that he holds a state firearm owner’s identification card and that his gun was registered in Calumet City.
He said he opened his store, The Connection Wear, in 2005. He carried a gun because the neighborhood was unsafe, he said.
Zoubeidi said he experienced 10 break-ins and three armed robberies in which guns were pointed at his head.
Zoubeidi said he hired security guards — including off-duty Calumet City cops — to protect his store during holidays. He said one of those guards, Justin Stanton, was fatally shot in an unrelated incident in Calumet City in August 2010.
Zoubeidi said he has since closed his store on Sibley Boulevard “because it’s not worth my life.”
The charges against him stem from an incident at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 2010.
Zoubeidi said four men walked into his store and checked out his Pelle Pelle leather coats, which cost more than $1,000 each. The four men pretended they did not know each other.
When they left the store and got into the same white car, Zoubeidi grew suspicious and put his handgun in his waistband.
One of the men returned to buy a coat. He tried to pay with a credit card and became irate when Zoubeidi demanded to see an ID.
Zoubeidi claims the man flashed a handgun in his waistband, grabbed two coats and fled. He said he pulled his gun, chased the thief outside and fired three shots at the man, who escaped. The suspect was not arrested.
“I didn’t have anything to hide,” Zoubeidi said.
He said he told police he fired at the thief and showed them surveillance video of the incident. But O’Byrne acknowledged that police did not see the thief was armed when they reviewed the video.
For Zoubeidi, it’s not his first brush with the law over firearms. He said he was convicted of a misdemeanor gun charge in 2009 after he accidentally shot himself.
“I don’t know why they charged me with that one, either,” he said.