Felony charges dropped against man found with guns at Chicago hotel — 2 years after Lightfoot, top cop suggested he planned mass attack

When Keegan Casteel was arrested two years ago after a rifle, a pistol and ammunition were found in his downtown Chicago hotel room, both the mayor and the police superintendent proclaimed that a possible mass attack had been averted.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the seized guns “weapons of war.” Supt. David Brown said Casteel’s arrest “likely prevented a tragedy from happening.” Both suggested that Casteel, visiting with his family from Iowa, may have intended to fire on Navy Pier crowds.

But on Monday, prosecutors dropped all felony charges against Casteel, who pleaded guilty to reckless conduct, a misdemeanor. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine and will have to report by phone to the court for the next 10 months.

No evidence was ever produced in court files that Casteel had anything nefarious planned when he was arrested by Chicago police on July 4, 2021, when a housekeeper found the guns and ammunition in his room at the W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive.

Casteel was “happy to be putting the case behind him” and “wanted to move forward with his life,” his attorney, Jonathan Brayman, said Tuesday by phone.

Casteel, an auto mechanic from Ankeny, Iowa, said he had come to Chicago to propose to his girlfriend on the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Among the items seized by police during a search of the hotel room was a diamond ring.

He ended up popping the question immediately after being released from Cook County Jail.

Casteel claimed he had brought the guns by mistake while packing quickly the night before making the trip with his girlfriend and his two children. He decided to keep the items in his room.

A hotel worker spotted the guns — including a PTR 91 semi-automatic rifle with a .308-caliber round in the chamber and fitted with a “laser and high-powered” scope — in the room overlooking Navy Pier, according to police records.

Police body-worn camera footage showed officers discussing having potentially stopped a mass shooting similar to the 2017 attack in Las Vegas that left 61 dead. “I’m just saying, like it’s too much of a high risk,” an officer says. “That’s not weapons or ammo that you carry for protection.”

But at least one officer voiced doubts. “This doesn’t make sense,” an officer says on the footage. “Why would you come with your family to do all that?”

That didn’t stop Lightfoot and Brown from suggesting a terror attack had been averted. “Thank God for that hotel worker who saw something” Brown said.

Casteel was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and released after posting $1,000 bond — an indication the judge who heard the initial evidence didn’t believe Casteel posed a danger to the community.

Lightfoot, however, used the case to take a dig at the Cook County justice system.

“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. “But luckily, he was questioned by the joint terrorism task force. He is now under radar screening of the FBI.”

That task force eventually cleared Casteel and issued a report saying it had determined that he did not pose a threat, Brayman said Tuesday.

“I think he was very unfairly portrayed by the mayor and police in the media,” Brayman said of his client. “I think it was a convenient storyline that weekend” to draw attention from the city’s gun violence.

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