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Chicago Sun-Times

More than 150 people showed up at a Hegewisch banquet hall Wednesday night to support a slain Chicago Police officer's family who want to know why the man convicted of killing Officer John Mathews 26 years ago was allowed to coach a neighborhood baseball team.

To make sure nothing like that happens again, the Mathews family demanded the board of the Hegewisch Babe Ruth league resign.

And after a nearly two-hour closed-door meeting, they did.

"The board has graciously announced they would resign their positions," Joey Mathews, a son of the slain officer, told a crowd waiting outside the meeting shortly before 10 p.m.

Ald. John Pope (10th) helped negotiate the terms of their resignations.

Earlier, the room broke into applause as Tina Francisco, 53, a lifelong friend of the Mathews family, spoke.

"We will never forgive," she said. "And we will never forget."

The board of the Hegewisch Babe Ruth league met behind closed doors to discuss Dean Chavez, who stepped down from his role as a coach after Mathews' widow and her three children reached out to the head of the national baseball organization to call for Chavez to be fired.

Mathews' widow, Laura, and his two sons, John, 29, Joey, 30, and his daughter, Anne, 32, all attended the meeting Wednesday night.

As Laura Mathews walked into a small room in the back of Steve's Lounge to meet with board members, someone shouted, "We're here for you, Laura," and the crowd erupted in cheers of support.

Many in attendance wore Chicago Police T-shirts. The tight-knit Far Southeast Side community is home to many police and firefighters. Joey Mathews sent a note out to the community via Facebook asking for support at the meeting, claiming that supporters of Chavez would also be there.

Chavez was not at the meeting, but some former players came out to support him. At one point, the group of teens got into a shouting match with supporters of the Mathews family in the waiting room outside the closed-door meeting. The young Chavez backers were then kicked out.

About 20 police officers were assigned to patrol the corner outside the bar.

The Mathews family said they wanted the members of the board who hired Chavez to put in safeguards to prevent anything similar from happening in the future. Others in the crowd wanted the board that hired Chavez replaced.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about him," Laura Mathews said. "They knew what he had done. And they allowed him to be with kids. It's not right. A convicted felon, a murderer, does not belong coaching children."

"My father was killed with a baseball bat," said John Mathews, who lives in La Grange Park. "And Dean Chavez was teaching kids how to play baseball and swing a baseball bat."

Chavez, who lives in Hegewisch, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Mathews was 27 when he was fatally beaten in a forest preserve near Wolf Lake in 1988. Chavez was one of five people accused in his death. Mathews was beaten so savagely that another officer who had seen him half an hour before the attack did not recognize Mathews' body when it was discovered near the lake's shore on May 21, 1988.

Mathews, who lived near the lake, apparently had gone to the scene after some youths, who had been ordered out of the preserve, refused to leave.

Chavez was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison in that case. He did not serve his full prison term.

Scott Jamrock, acting president of Hegewisch Babe Ruth, told the Chicago Sun-Times he doesn't understand the sudden uproar - because the coach had been with the organization for years, and his criminal history was no secret.

"His past was very well known in the league and in the neighborhood," Jamrock said.

Jamrock, who took over the presidency just last month, said the league and its board have law enforcement in its ranks. One of the league's former presidents was a police detective, Jamrock said. Another was a retired firefighter. Two current coaches are police officers, Jamrock said.

Jamrock said he asked Dean Chavez to resign last month.

"When I actually became, officially, president, my first order of business was to remove him, and I did that," Jamrock said.

Jamrock said he was acting under orders from the president of the national Babe Ruth organization.

"Basically, it was the complaints from the Mathews family," Jamrock said. "They emailed us, asking us to remove [Chavez]. The thing you've got to understand is I've been acting president for a little over a month; that's what I need to get out because everybody is bashing me over this."

Some viewed Chavez as a savior to the failing league when he came on board about six years ago.

"People saw a change in him," said Jamrock, who said he's been involved with the league for about three years. "They don't see the bad. They see what he did for the league."

July 31, 2014

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