Two years ago, Deshawn Danzler was given a break in a federal contempt case after promising he was finally ready to “break the cycle” of Chicago’s relentless gun violence if given a second chance.
Instead, Danzler was arrested within months on a South Side street while carrying a pistol with an extended magazine and automatic switch that prosecutors say turned the gun into a bullet-spraying “killing machine.”
On Friday, a federal judge told Danzler, “You are out of chances.”
“You should have known (don’t) do it again,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin said in sentencing Danzler to more than five years in prison. “If it was to protect yourself, maybe you need to find another way.”
And while Danzler apologized to the court and his family for letting them down, Durkin said there was at least one interested group he left out: The residents of Chicago who are “trying live their lives honestly, safely” and have to live in fear of others who “at the drop of a hat engage in gun violence.”
“What are these guns doing out there? These are weapons of war,” Durkin said. “It’s insane.”
The 62-month sentence handed down by Durkin was the latest in a legal saga for Danzler that serves as a sort of microcosm of how difficult it is for some to break free the city’s culture of guns and gangs.
“Living in Chicago, it’s a curse and a blessing,” Danzler, 28, said in a lengthy statement to the court. “It gives you a strong warrior, survival-like mentality…But the curse is all the pain and the trauma you have to go through just to get that mentality.”
Danzler is certainly no stranger to the cycle. Born on the South Side, he was subjected to poverty and abuse as a boy and joined a gang at age 12, court records show. His childhood was marred by a series of gun-related tragedies, including the murder of his 11-year-old brother and witnessing the 2013 slaying of his best friend, according to those records.
In 2015, at age 21, Danzler was a victim in a gang-related ambush that left him badly wounded and an innocent bystander, Hammood “Solo” Dawoudi, 23, dead.
Four years later, he was charged with federal contempt of court for refusing to tell a grand jury who shot him, even though he’d been granted immunity from prosecution, the Tribune has reported.
“After you were shot, did you find out that a person you know as Solo was outside of your door and that he was murdered by the individual that shot you?” prosecutors asked Danzler before the grand jury, which was investigating the incident as part of a broader probe into the Evans Mob street gang faction.
“I mean, what you want me to say?” Danzler responded, according to the indictment.
“Are you refusing to answer that question?” the prosecutor asked.
“I refuse to answer anything, anything,” Danzler allegedly responded.
Asked repeatedly to identify the gunman, he said, “I just said I want to remain silent. Why you keep asking me questions?” records show.
Because of Danzler’s silence, the suspected gunman was never charged with the shooting. He was later arrested for a different slaying and was convicted at trial last year, court records show. He’s scheduled to be sentenced next week.
Danzler, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to contempt in November 2020. At his sentencing hearing three months later he asked for time served, promising he was finally ready to turn his life around.
“Your honor, I’ve been jumped, shot, cut, backstabbed. … I’ve been everything in life but successful,” Danzler told U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman at the time. “I am tired of losing people to the streets and the system. … I want to be the one to break the cycle.”
Guzman, who is known for relatively harsh sentences, said Danzler had made a mockery of the criminal justice system and perpetuated a “no-snitch” street code that was “extremely upsetting and serious.” But he credited Danzler’s words in sentencing him to only two years behind bars — which was essentially time served.
“This was a gift,” Guzman warned Danzler at the time. “If you don’t abide by my conditions, you will be right back in jail.”
Five months later, on the afternoon of Aug. 3, 2021, Chicago police arrested Danzler after a traffic stop in the 7800 block of South State Street, court records show.
According to the police report, Danzler tried to flee a pat down and, after a brief scuffle, was found to be carrying a .45-caliber pistol with extended clip and a “Glock switch,” which can be used to shoot a burst of bullets with one press of the trigger.
Guzman is scheduled to hold a hearing next week on Danzler’s violation of supervised release, records show.
Danzler’s attorney, Keri Ambrosio, said her client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and extreme anxiety stemming from his own shooting eight years ago, and that he was never given promised mental health treatment after his release on court supervision.
She also noted he’s never been convicted of shooting anyone and has repeatedly stated he’s forced to carry a gun for his own protection.
“Mr. Danzler has shown no propensity for violence in this offense nor others,” Ambrosio wrote in a recent filing requesting a two-year prison sentence. “Instead, following his own brutal experience, he has shown only the desire to protect himself in the one way he currently knows.”
In asking for a sentence of up to 6 1/2 years in prison, however, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Mulaney III said even if Danzler was trying to protect himself, he made “the worst choice.”
“A converted Glock is a killing machine, not a weapon any law-abiding citizen carries for protection,” Mulaney said in his sentencing filing.
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Danzler on Friday said that when he was released in 2021, people in the neighborhood were aware of his case and knew where his mother lived. He said told an acquaintance he “needed some protection” and was given the gun with the automatic switch, which are “everywhere.”
“If I had been given a .22-caliber, I’d have been grateful for that,” he said.
Danzler also asked for another chance, again. He said he is ready to get the tattoos removed from his face, say “goodbye to Chicago” and move his family — including his infant son — to Georgia to escape the cycle of violence.
Danzler told Durkin he saw his life as a different kind of cycle: That of a caterpillar. His 20s, which were spent mostly in prison, were like a “cocoon phase,” he said. Now that he was approaching his 30s, he said he was ready to “be a butterfly and be free.”
At the end of the hearing, Durkin noted that many of the circumstances of Danzler’s life were not his fault, and that he was an intelligent and articulate person. But the judge said it was time for Danzler to stop blaming others for his own crimes.
“At some point, you’ve got to deal with your fear in a different way than carrying a machine gun,” the judge said.