Scott's death ruled suicide, but cops continue to investigate

FinanceFamilyPoliticsRegional AuthorityChicago Public SchoolsJesse JacksonMichael Scott

CHICAGO - The death of Chicago school board president Michael Scott has been ruled a suicide by the Cook County medical examiner's office, but police said this afternoon they are continuing to look into the death and that detectives are still "early on in the investigation."

There are "just a lot of things we have look at before we have a definite answer," Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis said at an afternoon news conference. Once the investigation is conducted "then we'll make a decision as to what we believe the cause of death to be."

Detectives are awaiting the results of ballistics tests, are examining Scott's phone records and are looking into whether security cameras in the area may have captured his movements before his death, Weis said.

Scott was found with a gunshot wound to the left side of his head, according to authorities. His body was found early this morning at the water's edge of the Chicago River behind the Chicago Apparel Center at 350 N. Orleans along the north branch of the river, police said.

He apparently fell forward after shooting himself, and a .380-caliber gun was found under the body, police sources say. No note was found at the scene and detectives are trying to track down the gun's registration, police said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson spent much of the day with Scott's relatives today and said they had seen no evidence that indicated his death was a suicide. He said no evidence had been presented to the family that suggested Scott had written a suicide note.

"It was a very somber and reflective atmosphere," Jackson said.

Scott's family reported him missing just after midnight Monday though sources said the search started several hours earlier.

Scott was last seen Sunday at 6 p.m. after he visited his sister at a South Loop nursing home, a relative said. He brought a pizza there, the family told Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend of Scott.

The relative said he visited his sister regularly on Sundays and described him as a creature of habit.

Around 3:15 a.m. today, police found Scott's blue Cadillac parked next to a trash bin yards away from where he was discovered along the river, police say. The car was winched onto a tow truck about 6:30 a.m.

"The family of Michael W. Scott deeply appreciates the outpouring of support during this time of unimaginable grief," according to a statement by Scott's family released through Chicago Public Schools. "Our personal loss is also shared by many throughout Chicago, the home he loved so much. We will miss him greatly."

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley visited Scott's family in their West Side home in the morning and spoke afterwards outside the home, expressing condolences to Scott's wife, son and daughter and saying what a shock the death was.

He said he saw Scott at a school-related meeting last week and Scott did not appear troubled at the time.

"He always helped people," Daley said. "He always had a smile, he was always upbeat."

"He loved Chicago just as much as I did."

Asked if federal scrutiny of admissions into some public schools may have contributed to Scott's death, Daley said that had nothing to do with it.

Scott was among officials subpoenaed this summer in a federal investigation of admissions practices at Chicago's selective enrollment high schools.

Scott also found himself in the spotlight this spring and summer when the Tribune published several stories related to his key role as a member of Daley's Chicago 2016 Olympic committee and his real estate dealings.

In August, the Tribune reported that Scott was working on a development in Lawndale that would had have increased in value if Chicago had won the Olympics and built a planned cycling venue in nearby Douglas Park.

Although state records and his partners referred to him as the manager and developer of the project, Scott claimed he was involved as a favor to a group of politically connected ministers. He said he had no financial interest in the project. Although Chicago 2016 officials at first defended Scott, they subsequently acknowledged he should have disclosed his involvement in the project.

Scott also worked as a consultant on a large South Side condominium project very near the proposed Olympic Village site. He also had longstanding business relationship with developer Gerald Fogelson, who had expressed interest in building the village.

Scott was in the second stint of his career as Daley's school board president. Daley appointed him board president from 2001 to 2006, and then again this February. He also served on the board for a year under former Mayor Jane Byrne.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Ron Huberman said in a statement he was "heartbroken and saddened by the unspeakable tragedy. Our immediate thoughts are with Michael's family and everyone who was touched by him."

Chicago Teachers Union President Marilyn Stewart said in a statement that Scott recently told her he didn't think he'd be around much longer as board president, and that he viewed his appointment as being an interim one.

Stewart said she last spoke with Scott on Saturday regarding the upcoming school board agenda.

"I found Michael to be someone who worked with the union in a cooperative manner and who was willing to hear the other side of any issue," said Stewart. "I believe he was dedicated to doing what was best for the children in Chicago Public Schools and his death leaves a huge void to fill at a time when the Board desperately needs stability in its leadership."

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former chief of Chicago Public Schools, released a statement: "I am shocked and saddened by the sudden death of my friend and colleague Michael Scott. Michael cared passionately about public education and made many courageous decisions as President of the Board."

Tariq Butt, a Chicago school board member who has known Scott for about 20 years, said he was shocked by the news.

"He's been a giant of Chicago civic life for many many years," said Butt. "It is very tragic news."

Jackson arrived at the scene, just east of the Kinzie Street bridge, at about 7:25 a.m.

"I am stunned beyond disbelief. What a Monday morning to wake up to," said Jackson, who said that he and Scott go back at least 25 years and praised Scott as a decent man and an excellent negotiator and problem-solver who got along with everyone.

Later, outside Scott's home, Jackson said, "He was a public servant with a tough skin. Tender heart and tough skin."

At the start of the City Council Finance Committee today, aldermen led by their colleague, Isaac Carothers, stood for a moment of silence for Scott.

Gov. Pat Quinn called the death "a human tragedy," adding: "It's really a very sad day for Illinois. He had a servant's heart, he worked so hard on education and many, many other issues. A gentle man, a real great guy, and I think our whole state should be very sad today."

Scott also served in public posts under mayors Harold Washington and Eugene Sawyer. Daley had also appointed him Park District board president and a member on the boards of the RTA and Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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