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Video shows police shooting unjustified, attorneys say

A security video proves a 20-year-old motorist was unjustifiably shot 11 times by Chicago Police officers during a drug sting earlier this year, his defense attorneys told a Cook County judge Thursday.

Denzel Ford’s lawyers showed Judge Thomas Gainer Jr. the blurry video during a bond hearing at the courthouse at 26th and California. The video clears Ford of allegations that he was trying to kill cops with his car, his attorneys said.

But prosecutors argued that Ford struck the officers with his car in September in an attempt to run over them. Gainer set Ford’s bail at $300,000, although judges often set an even higher amount of bail — or deny bond altogether — when defendants are accused of attempted murder of police officers.

Denzel Ford
Denzel Ford

Outside court, Ford’s father, Ricky Ford, shook his head in dismay at the outcome of the bond hearing.

“I don’t think they were in any danger,” he said of the officers.

The 28 counts against Ford include charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery, resisting arrest and damage to government property. If convicted, he would face 20 to 80 years in prison.

The video took prosecutors by surprise.

“This is literally new to me,” Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Lorraine Lynott said.

She pointed out that the clip that Gainer viewed on a laptop computer is only a portion of the entire video. Ford’s attorneys said they would make the whole video available to Gainer and prosecutors.

The video comes from a surveillance camera at a business about 100 yards from the scene of the West Side incident, said Nenye Uche, one of Ford’s attorneys. A private investigator for Ford obtained the video, which has been computer-enhanced.

It shows a car driving toward the front end of a parked car and coming to a stop. They’re bumper-to-bumper when the second car backs up. The second car then lurches forward several feet, hits the first car and stops. At least two people are then seen walking near the first car.

The video doesn’t show any officers getting hit by a car. No shooting is visible on the video, either.

Uche said his client didn’t know officers were in the unmarked car that pulled up. The officers weren’t using the flashing lights on their car and didn’t identify themselves as cops, he claimed.

Uche said he doesn’t believe the officers’ lives were in danger before they shot Ford.

“My client is the only person who was genuinely injured in this case,” he said.

Lynott countered that Ford injured two officers with his car before he was shot.

Ford was targeted in a drug sting at 10:20 p.m. on Sept. 13 on Lake Street near Western Avenue. Three civilian witnesses had helped police to set up a heroin deal with Ford, who is known as “Cash,” Lynott said.

One officer and two of the civilians were parked in a Honda behind Ford’s car, a Chevy Impala.

Two other officers were in an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria with a third civilian. They pulled up in front of Ford’s Impala, facing his car head-on.

All three officers jumped out of their cars, identified themselves as cops and ordered Ford to exit his vehicle and show his hands, Lynott said.

Ford threw his Impala into reverse and crashed into the Honda. Then he accelerated toward Officer Mark Wesselhoff and struck the Crown Victoria, Lynott said.

Wesselhoff jumped back onto the hood of the Crown Victoria and was thrown onto the street, hitting his head and back on the pavement, Lynott said. The door of the Crown Victoria knocked Officer Eric Mateo to the ground, injuring his arm, she said.

Ford then reversed his Impala again and struck the Honda a second time, Lynott said. As Ford drove forward, the officers fired into his car, striking him, she said.

Lynott said Ford admitted hitting the officers with his car because he was scared and trying to get away. He said he “f—– up” and “made a mistake,” she said.

Police found seven small bags containing a total of 1.1 grams of heroin in the Impala, along with cash, Lynott said.

Wesselhoff spent a week in the hospital with severe back injuries, Lynott said.

Uche told the judge the video shows his client backed up his car just once — in contrast to prosecutors’ version of Ford going into reverse twice and forward twice.

“We believe the charges are not valid,” he said.

Thursday was the first chance for Ford to have a bond hearing, because he’s been in the hospital recovering from his bullet wounds. He appeared in court in a wheelchair with his left arm in a sling.

His father, whose leg was amputated because of complications from diabetes, said his son had been caring for him at home before he was shot. He said he hasn’t been able to speak to his son in person since he was wounded, but they talk on the phone.

“He’s not doing that good,” Ricky Ford said of his son, who doesn’t have an adult criminal record or a known gang affiliation. “He just wants to get out.”

Contributing: Art Golab