2 Officers relieved of police powers in fatal shooting

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Two Chicago police officers have been relieved of their police powers after department brass made the preliminary determination that they violated policy when they fired their weapons in an incident that killed an 18-year-old man, a police spokesman said Friday night.

Three officers fired their weapons in an incident that left Paul O’Neal, 18, dead after police say he was in a stolen Jaguar that sideswiped a squad car and hit a parked car, injuring some officers about 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the 7400 block of South Merrill Avenue.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson “spent most of this afternoon with top advisors and command staff reviewing the preliminary information from the incident. (Police) investigators determined 3 officers discharged their weapons in the course of their duties and given what is known thus far, it appears that departmental policies may have been violated by at least 2 of the police officers,” said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in an email Friday night.

“As of now, the two officers have been relieved of their police powers and will be assigned to administrative positions within the agency pending the outcome of (the Independent Police Review Authority)’s investigation and our continuing internal administrative review.”

The officers involved initially were placed on administrative duties for 30 days per department policy. They now will be on administrative duty, but not have their police powers and not return to regular duty unless they are cleared in the IPRA and internal investigations.

O’Neal, of the 1700 block of East 70th Street, was positively identified Friday evening, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. He was pronounced dead at 9:08 p.m. Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital following the shooting in the 7400 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood, according to the office. An autopsy was scheduled for Saturday.

Friday night, a group of friends of O’Neal’s and other activists held a vigil at the scene of the shooting.

The peaceful candlelight vigil of about 200 people gathered near the scene of the shooting in South Shore briefly became a chaotic scramble Friday night after one man ran through the crowd and pushed O’Neal’s sister, Briana Adams, 23, who was quietly asking everyone to respect her brother.

The crowd ran in all directions, and more than a dozen officers rushed to the scene. No one was hurt.

Eventually the crowd reconvened and cheered loudly as one of the organizers announced on a bullhorn–incorrectly–that the officers had been fired for violating police policy.

Up until the point of the brief disruption, the crowd, gathered around votive candles shaped like a heart, listened as speaker after speaker called for justice.

“I lost my little cousin to police officers,” Zhivago Short, a 20-year-old college student, told the crowd. “What are y’all going to do about it?”

He implored them to stay in school. Three people in the crowd held up stop signs, one saying “Cops stop killing us.”

The vigil was held about 24 hours after the shooting, which took place when officers stopped a Jaguar S-type convertible reported stolen from Bolingbrook, police said. Officers had stopped the car near 7400 S. Merrill Ave. after it had been spotted in several parts of Chicago earlier in the day, police said.

As the officers got out of their car, the driver of the Jaguar “put the vehicle in drive and literally forced his way out,” First Deputy Superintendent John Escalante said at the scene. The car sideswiped a squad car and also hit a car parked on the street, he said.

Officers then fired their service weapons, according to police. One of the officers “continued to follow the fleeing offender” and he was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement later released by the department.

A 17-year-old boy who was also in the car was taken into police custody.

Some officers suffered “injuries during the vehicle apprehension” and were taken to a hospital with  injuries not considered life-threatening, the statement said.

The statement did not say a gun was recovered.

The officers involved in the shooting, as well as assisting officers on scene, were wearing body cameras, Escalante said.  In-car video is also available, he said.

“This is going to be a very active investigation,” Escalante said. “It’s going to take a while to be able to view after downloading all the body camera footage as well as the in-car camera footage and whatever other video may be found during the canvass.”

Extra detectives were called to canvass the neighborhood, he said.  Members of the Independent Police Review Authority were also on the scene.

Escalante did not take reporters’ questions.

“I also still have quite a few questions as to what exactly happened here, but it is still going to be a little while before we have our answers internally to those questions, as well as IPRA being able to have all of their questions answered as well,” he said.

The shooting was the second involving a Chicago police officer in 40 minutes.  Shortly before 7 p.m. in Englewood, police shot a man while responding to a possible robbery.  The man was reported in fair to serious condition.

The statements from Escalante and the department are not specific on when the officers began firing and when they stopped firing.  They also do not say whether officers continued firing as the driver ran away–or if it was the driver who was killed.

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