Victim who died after CTA subway beating ‘was just a nice guy, never gave anyone no trouble,’ friend says

Kevin Powell was well known to the staff at Matthew House, a Bronzeville soup kitchen where many homeless Chicagoans gather for breakfast after riding CTA trains through the night.

"He was just a nice guy, never gave anyone no trouble," said supervisor Willie Love, who knew Powell from their younger days at the Robert Taylor Homes that once stood nearby.

Love spoke hours after a bail hearing Tuesday where prosecutors detailed an hour-long attack against Powell early Saturday at the LaSalle Street Blue Line stop at 150 W. Congress Parkway. He was pronounced dead after paramedics were called to the station.

CTA employee Emmett Richardson, 39, beat and dragged Powell around the station after finding him sleeping on a wheelchair on the station’s platform, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto. Richardson twice shoved Powell down sets of stairs, according to video captured by surveillance cameras.

Powell, 54, never tried to defend himself or even engaged with Richardson, Scaduto said.

Autopsy results were still pending Tuesday, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, which hasn’t formally identified Powell. His name and personal information were included in an arrest report for Richardson, who now faces felony counts of aggravated battery.

The medical examiner’s ruling on the cause could lead to more serious charges, though Judge Barbara Dawkins appeared to make her own determination. "I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out how he died. But, I mean, I’m not a medical examiner, so I’m gonna stay in my lane," she said.

‘This shocks the conscience’

Powell arrived at the station just after 2 a.m. and appeared "unstable," Scaduto said. By 3:17 a.m., Richardson showed up on the platform and repeatedly kicked the wheelchair Powell was resting on, sending him falling to the ground.

As Powell walked away, Richardson went up an elevator before returning and shoving Powell onto an escalator, Scaduto said. When they reached the mezzanine level, Richardson pulled Powell backward by his hood but nearly fell down, making Richardson"even more visibly irate."

Richardson rushed at Powell and pulled him over the railing at the top of the escalator, causing him to land on his back, Scaduto said. Richardson later dragged Powell by his hood to the top of a large stairwell and then flipped him down "like so much garbage."

After returning several times to pour bottles of water on Powell, Richardson propped him up, repeatedly punched him and then pushed him down another set of stairs, according to Scaduto said, who said Powell was left "essentially motionless."

Before calling 911 to report an unresponsive person on the platform, Richardson repositioned Powell’s body several times, Scaduto said.

When emergency personnel arrived, Richardson said he had seen Powell surrounded by drug paraphernalia and believed he had overdosed, prosecutors said. Powell was pronounced dead there.

A review of surveillance footage at the station contradicted Richardson’s story, Scaduto said. He was arrested later Saturday at his home in the Douglas neighborhood, according to his arrest report.

Richardson had been the subject of past complaints from riders in his two years on the job, Scaduto said. A customer service manager for the agency told authorities she had twice warned Richardson about his treatment of customers and attitude.

Richardson’s public defender said he was considered a low flight risk and asked Judge Dawkins to set a "reasonable bond." But Dawkins rebuffed the appeal, pointing to the "extremely violent nature of the attack" and setting Richardson’s bail at $3 million.

"This shocks the conscience. And few things in this building shock the conscience because we hear things in this building every day of a violent nature," she said of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Richardson’s next court date was set for April 5.

No place to go

Love said Powell typically rode the trains throughout the night, then got his two meals at Matthew House, 3722 S. Indiana Ave. Though Powell sometimes used a wheelchair, Love said he would still volunteer to help around the kitchen and take jobs when someone showed up looking for day laborers.

Sanja Rickette-Stinson, the chief executive of Matthew House, said she had heard about the beating but had no idea her client was the victim. She complained that news about the plight of the homeless population in Chicago has been especially bad recently.

"You’re hearing that they won’t let them stay in the airport, they’re clearing out the tents in the parks," Rickette-Stinson said. "There aren’t enough beds in the shelters for everyone. Oftentimes, riding the trains is the only way they can stay out of the elements overnight."