Bridgette Wooten-Mitchell says her two older sons, Denzel and Rayshawn, who were arrested last month in connection with an armed street robbery, are innocent of the charges.
Her anger is directed at the Oak Park police – whose officers she says have been harassing her sons for some time – and at Wednesday Journal, for printing personal informational about her family in an April 8 report on her sons’ arrests.
She maintains that accusations by unidentified neighbors and police are untrue. A published reference to her family’s Section 8 housing is a violation of privacy, Wooten-Mitchell said.
Denzel Wooten, 18, and Rayshawn Wooten, 19, were arrested by Oak Park police on April 3, a Friday night. Denzel Wooten was charged with armed robbery. Aggravated unlawful use of a weapon was one charge against Rayshawn Wooten.
According to Wooten-Mitchell, Denzel Wooten has denied being involved in the robbery and Rayshawn Wooten has denied having a gun. She insists this wasn’t a random robbery. She said the alleged victim, whose name has not been released publicly, has an ongoing conflict with her sons dating to their freshman days at Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Wooten-Mitchell says she and her husband, Robert Mitchell, moved to Oak Park from Chicago primarily for the schools. They have lived in Oak Park for 19 years, she says. Wooten-Mitchell, 36, works for the Park District of Oak Park. Mitchell, 39, works for the Oak Park Public Library. They also have a younger child.
The family has lived at the S. Lombard apartment building since the early 2000s. Wooten-Mitchell maintains that the problems with police and neighbors began about five years ago when she filed a complaint against a resident beat officer, alleging that he used excessive force on her son Denzel and called him derogatory names. Wooten-Mitchell talked with a department official and said the beat officer was reprimanded. She claims the beat officer later talked to her landlord, trying to persuade him to kick her family out.
Wooten-Mitchell said one of her neighbors is leading the charge to have her family evicted. She claims that in early April, a few days after the arrests, some neighbors went door-to-door to encourage others to join an effort to have her family removed from the block.
“None of these neighbors have ever come to talk to me,” she said. “They do these undercover meetings but no neighbors have ever come to this house. My kids have not been saints and angels, but why do we have to say let’s kick them off this block?”
She also disputes neighbors’ claims that her sons are in a Chicago gang. Wooten-Mitchell says her sons have associated with “the wrong people,” but insists they are not in a gang.
“My sons were born in Oak Park. Their friends are in Oak Park. They did not grow up in Chicago. If they were going to say that they associate with a street gang, why say Chicago and not Oak Park? You’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, or does that apply to only certain people?”
Wooten-Mitchell said Rayshawn and Denzel attended grammar school in Oak Park – at Holmes and Beye – and each went to Emerson and Hawthorne junior highs (now Brooks and Julian middle schools). They went to OPRF and each had discipline issues his freshman year, Wooten-Mitchell said, but never for weapons, gang or drug activity. Denzel Wooten is an OPRF senior. Rayshawn Wooten, who graduated in 2008, attends Triton College, according to Wooten-Mitchell.
She addressed other points in Wednesday Journal’s April 8 story. Concerning Rayshawn Wooten’s 2007 arrest for allegedly beating up his then-girlfriend, Wooten-Mitchell said they’re no longer together and that Rayshawn filed a complaint against her for battery. The cyber-stalking charge against him in that case stemmed from arguments between the couple via text messages. It was later thrown out and he received no felony conviction, Wooten-Mitchell said.
In the June 2008 incident where Rayshawn Wooten was charged for mob action in the alleged assault of an Oak Park girl, Wooten-Mitchell said the girl appeared in court, insisted that he did not assault her and that he was only present during a fight she was having with someone else. Wooten-Mitchell added that she called police about the incident two months ago when a group of boys showed up at her home to fight her sons.
Her lease at 216 S. Lombard is up in August and she said she knows her landlord won’t renew it. But, Wooten-Mitchell said, she and her husband will try to have it renewed or will look for housing elsewhere in Oak Park.
Of all the details published, Wooten-Mitchell is most disturbed by what she calls attacks on her as a parent.
“They tried to destroy our character,” she said of neighbors and police. “To attack my parenting skills was the lowest of the low. I’ve been teaching kids in Oak Park for 10 years. My husband has provided services here. We have given back. My plan is to remain right here.”