Police: Woman accidentally killed by Chicago officer's gunfire
Officer responding to a call accidentally killed a 55-year-old woman, one of two people fatally wounded by police gunfire
By Michael Tarm
CHICAGO — Grieving relatives and friends of two people shot and killed by Chicago police said Sunday the slayings raised concerns about why officers "shoot first and ask questions later," adding that law enforcement officials had failed the city's residents.
Quintonio LeGrier, 19, was killed early Saturday by police responding to a domestic disturbance, along with downstairs neighbor Bettie Jones, 55, police said.
Jones was hit accidentally by the gunfire, the police said. Both victims were black.
"For me to just look at the news and see that she was shot down — a beautiful woman, a beautiful woman. It hurts my heart to see that," said Jacqueline Walker, a friend of Jones.
At a news conference outside the West Side residence where the victims lived, Walker said police should use stun guns or other nonlethal methods instead.
Why must police "shoot first and ask questions later?" Walker asked. "It's ridiculous."
The shootings came amid scrutiny of police after a series of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of officers gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Chicago Police Department also is under a federal civil rights investigation that will look into patterns of racial disparity in the use of force, how the department disciplines officers and handles misconduct accusations.
Family members and others at the news conference wore black T-shirts critical of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
LeGrier's mother, Janet Cooksey, told reporters that the police "are supposed to serve us and protect us, and yet they take the lives."
"Something just needs to be done," she added. "I used to watch the news daily and I would grieve for other mothers, other family members, and now today I'm grieving myself."
The Chicago Police Department said in a statement Saturday that officers who responded to a 911 call "were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer's weapon."
"The 55-year-old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed," according to the statement, which extended "deepest condolences to the victim's family and friends."
Jones, a mother of five who had hosted family for Christmas, and LeGrier, a college student home for holiday break, were pronounced dead at hospitals, according to relatives and the Cook County medical examiner's office.
Police did not disclose the race of the officer, saying only that those involved will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days while "training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted." It isn't clear how many officers responded, how many used their firearms and how many times both LeGrier and Jones were struck.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the officers' role in the shootings is being investigated by the city's Independent Police Review Authority, the main police oversight agency. He also said police can't comment.
IPRA spokesman Larry Merritt also declined comment. He said Saturday it was "very early on in the investigation" and he couldn't release further details.
LeGrier's father, Antonio, told the Chicago Sun-Times he had invited his son to a family holiday gathering before the shootings but the younger man chose not to go. When the father returned to his second-floor apartment early Saturday, the son appeared to be a "little agitated," Antonio LeGrier said.
The elder LeGrier said he heard loud banging on his locked bedroom door around 4:15 a.m. and that his son said, "You're not going to scare me." He said his son tried to bust the door open, but he kept him from doing so and called police. The father told the newspaper that he called Jones, who lived a floor below, and warned her that his son was a "little irate" and not to open the door unless police arrived. He said Jones told him she saw his son outside with a baseball bat.
When police arrived, Antonio LeGrier said he heard Jones yell, "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" He said he heard gunshots as he made his way down from the second floor and saw his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
"I identified myself as the father and I held my hands out," he said.
Antonio LeGrier told the Sun-Times his son had emotional problems after spending most of his childhood in foster care. LeGrier described him as a "whiz kid" and said he was home on break from Northern Illinois University, where he majored in electrical engineering technology.
Cooksey denied that her son exhibited "combative behavior."
"And for them to kill him and then disrespect him and say his behavior was that way — no, it was not," she said. "He might've been angry with his father and they might've got into it. ... But he never had combative behavior.
"My son was happy. He's not an angry child. He's not a violent child," she added.
Accounts from relatives of the victims and family lawyers differed about what happened. It's not clear whether Jones tried to intervene before being shot or if she was hit while answering the door.
Eric Russell, a lawyer for the Jones family, said Jones had answered the door and was met by gunfire, adding that it appears police shot from a distance.
Another Jones family lawyer, Sam Adams Jr., said police took the hard drive of a home-security camera from across the street, but it was unknown if it or other cameras in the neighborhood captured the shooting.
Emanuel's office issued a statement late Saturday that said the IPRA would share its evidence with the county prosecutor's office.
"Anytime an officer uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city," Emanuel said in the statement.
The federal civil rights investigation was launched after last month's release of police dashcam video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The video's release has led to protests, the forced resignation of Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and calls for Emanuel to step down. It is not clear whether there are any video recordings of Saturday's shootings.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis were among about 100 neighbors, activists and others who attended a vigil later Sunday for Jones and LeGrier outside their home. A sign held by one person read, "Stop Killing Us," and several chanted, "This is not an accident!"
Some put candles on the porch and Cooksey placed flowers on the railing.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press