Chicago officials release 'horrific' video showing events leading up to fatal police shooting of black teenager

By Dan Hinkel Chicago Tribune

Chicago police investigate a police-involved fatal shooting in the 7300 block of South Merrill Avenue in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood on Friday, July 29, 2016.

CHICAGO — Videos from the fatal shooting of teenager Paul O'Neal by Chicago police show officers firing down a street as O'Neal sped away from them in a reportedly stolen car and, moments later, officers handcuffing O'Neal as he lay mortally wounded behind a home in the city's South Shore neighborhood.

Acting with uncharacteristic swiftness, Chicago officials on Friday made public nine videos in all. Shortly before the 11 a.m. release, the head of the Chicago police oversight agency called the video footage "shocking and disturbing" and said that her heart went out to the family of 18-year-old O'Neal.

The dead teen's family was so distraught after viewing videos at the Independent Police Review Authority headquarters Friday morning that they left without making any public comment, their lawyer told reporters.

Outside of IPRA's offices, Michael Oppenheimer, the lawyer for O'Neal's family, called the video footage "beyond horrific" and said he plans to call for a special prosecutor to look into the shooting of the unarmed teen.

"There is no question in my mind that criminal acts were committed," said Oppenheimer, a former prosecutor. "What I saw was pretty cold-blooded."

The videos show officers firing on the reportedly stolen Jaguar as it drove away from them, and their shots appear to place officers farther down the street in danger of being shot. The city's use-of-force policy explicitly bars police from firing at a moving vehicle if it represents the only threat against officers.

The videos capture at least 15 shots being fired in about five seconds as the Jaguar passed the officers and drove away.

The video then showed the Jaguar hitting a police SUV, and O'Neal took off running as police pursued him behind some homes, running up driveways and jumping fences. The clips do not show the actual fatal shooting that happened in a backyard, but the devices record the sounds of about four more shots.

The fatal shot itself was not captured on video, department officials said, even though the officer who chased and shot O'Neal was wearing a body camera.

Department officials have not said why the camera did not record the shooting.

In the minutes after the shooting, the officers' comments made clear that at least one of them suspected O'Neal had shot at them.

"They shot at us, too, right?" an officer asked.

According to Oppenheimer, one officer can be heard saying, "F_, now I'm going to get a 30-day suspension."

O'Neal's family is suing the department.

Ja'Mal Green, a spokesman for the O'Neal family, said he was disturbed by one video that showed a few officers appearing to commend each other after the shooting, shaking hands.

"They did everything but high-five each other," Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer said the videos expose the need to improve officers' training.

"This goes down to training on race, this goes down to training on the community," he said. "There's a lot that needs to be done. Some of it has been done. We have a long way to go."

Oppenheimer accused the officer who fired the fatal shot of intentionally shutting down his body camera so no footage would capture that moment.

"They decided they would control this, so the cover-up has begun," he said.

Green said the officers showed no remorse, letting O'Neal lie handcuffed "for a long time."

"That was very shocking to me," he said. "It was very hard for me to watch this video as well."

Before the release of the videos, Sharon Fairley, IPRA's chief administrator, said in a statement that the agency is proceeding "as deliberately and expediently as possible in pursuit of a swift but fair determination" into the black teen's shooting.

The footage, "as shocking and disturbing as it is," Fairley said, "is not the only evidence to be gathered and analyzed when conducting a fair and thorough assessment of (the) conduct of police officers in performing their duties."

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took quick action after the shooting, stripping three officers who opened fire at O'Neal of their police powers and saying it appeared they had violated departmental policies.

Chicago police officers tried to stop O'Neal about 7:30 p.m. July 28 in the South Shore neighborhood as he drove a Jaguar convertible reported stolen in suburban Bolingbrook, Ill., police said. Surveillance cameras tied O'Neal and three others to a spree of car thefts, officials in the suburb said.

O'Neal struck two Chicago police vehicles in the sports car, and two officers fired at him while he was in the car, authorities said. O'Neal fled from the car, police said, and a third officer chased him behind a home. After O'Neal refused to stop, the officer shot him.

O'Neal, who was unarmed, died of a gunshot wound to the back, authorities said.

The city's quick moves after O'Neal's shooting show how much has changed in the eight months since the release of video of a white police officer shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. The officer who shot McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, is charged with murder.

The McDonald video _ and long-simmering dissatisfaction with police use of force among many African-Americans _ led to sustained protests, and the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation to determine whether police had systematically violated residents' rights. Federally enforced changes could come from that ongoing investigation, and Emanuel has announced or enacted a raft of reforms to policing and officer oversight.

Johnson broke with tradition by saying police appeared to have violated departmental policy in the O'Neal case. The superintendent, who was appointed by Emanuel amid the political crisis sparked by the McDonald video, issued an unusual department-wide memo saying that the information he had on the shooting "left (him) with more questions than answers."

The case also represents an about-face for city officials who have previously fought to prevent the release of videos of police shootings for as long as possible. In February, Emanuel announced the city would start releasing videos of shootings and other major uses of force within two to three months.

The three officers are stripped of police authority pending an inquiry by IPRA, which is also in transition. As detailed in a recent Tribune investigation, IPRA has long conducted superficial investigations and recommended light

Emanuel has announced plans to abolish the agency and replace it with a more effective department, though neither he nor his allies have announced any details. Meanwhile, IPRA's leader, former federal prosecutor Fairley, has sought to reform the department even as it faces its demise.

Under Fairley, who was appointed in the wake of the McDonald video's release, IPRA has ruled more police shootings unjustified in the past two months than it had in the prior nine years.

Two of the shootings IPRA recently ruled unjustified involved officers shooting at vehicles, as they appear to have done in O'Neal's case. In both of the shootings ruled unjustified, IPRA determined the officers faced no serious danger when they fired.

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