CHICAGO - The Iowa auto mechanic arrested in a downtown Chicago hotel room with a rifle, scope and pistol was in town to propose to his girlfriend over the Fourth of July weekend, not to launch a mass attack as the mayor and top cop have suggested, his lawyer insisted Wednesday.
"This baseless accusation against Mr. (Keegan) Casteel spurred sensational media coverage, despite the dearth of evidence that our client had any ill intent," said Loop attorney Jonathan M. Brayman.
"Mr. Casteel did have a plan for the Fourth of July – to travel to the city of Chicago to propose to his girlfriend on the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier that evening," he added.
This is the first public comment from Casteel since he was arrested July 4, when a housekeeper at Hotel W led police to room 1208, where officers found a loaded semi-automatic rifle with a laser scope, five ammunition clips and a loaded .45-caliber handgun.
Both Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown have said Casteel may have intended to fire on Navy Pier crowds from his hotel window, though prosecutors have yet to offer any proof of such plans.
Brayman said his client is licensed to have the guns and was merely possessing his Second Amendment rights. They suggested the weapons made Casteel feel safer in a crime-ridden city.
"The fact that good people feel the need to arm themselves when traveling to Chicago is the real problem that our public officials need to address," he said. "In Mr. Casteel’s case, there was nothing nefarious afoot."
Brayman suggested that both the mayor and the superintendent purposely sensationalized the arrest to draw attention from the city’s rising violence.
Brown announced the arrest two days after it was made, during a news conference where he was questioned about one of the most violent Fourth of July weekends in years, with over 100 people shot, including 13 children.
"While the superintendent and other public officials have made Mr. Casteel a scapegoat in the face of widespread violence and actual shootings in the city of Chicago, he is nothing more than a law-abiding person exercising his Second Amendment Rights," Brayman said.
Casteel, 32, has so far been charged with two felony counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, though prosecutors said Wednesday a grand jury will review the case.
In the meantime, he has been released on a relatively low $10,000 bond after a judge reminded him that gun laws in Chicago are different than in Iowa.
After leaving Cook County Jail on July 7 , Casteel walked up to an SUV and knelt in front of his girlfriend who had just gotten out of the driver’s seat. He held a ring and proposed, and they drove off.
The judge allowed Casteel to return to his home near Des Moines, where he has run an auto garage since the fall of 2019.
Since his arrest, Casteel’s mugshot has been carried by media around the world along with the accusations from the mayor and the police superintendent.
Brown, during his news conference, noted that Casteel’s hotel room overlooked a portion of the Ohio Street Beach along Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.
Brown said the housekeeper who tipped off police "likely prevented a tragedy from happening," adding, "Thank God for that hotel worker who saw something, and said something, and I believe averted disaster."
Brown, and later the mayor, noted that Casteel was interviewed by the "joint terrorism task force" in Chicago.
Though no terrorism-related charges were filed, Lightfoot described the guns found in the room as "weapons of war."
"Because he was charged with mere possession and legally, here in our city, the charges weren’t of the type that he could have been held," she complained hours after Brown’s news conference. "But luckily, he was questioned by the joint terrorism task force. He is now under radar screening of the FBI."
As described in the police report, officers found a PTR 91 semi-automatic rifle with a .308-caliber round in the chamber. It was fitted with a "laser and high-powered" scope.
There were also five ammunition clips with an "unknown amount" of ammunition, and an HK USP Tactical pistol with an "unknown amount of .45-caliber rounds."
The housekeeper spotted the guns near a window "in a very suspicious position," Brown told reporters, without elaborating.
But as the police report also notes, there is nothing suspicious in Casteel’s background: No outstanding arrest warrants, no investigative alerts, no threats on social media. He was neither on parole nor on probation.