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IPRA rules 2 police shootings unjustified, marking a turnabout

Sharon Fairley and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Charles Rex Arbogast| AP

Chicago’s embattled police oversight agency ruled this week that two police shootings weren’t justified, including one in which a 27-year-old man was killed.

The findings mark the third time that the Independent Police Review Authority has made a finding that a Chicago Police Department officer had no reason to shoot at a suspect since the Mayor Rahm Emanuel installed a new boss at the agency in December in the wake of public outrage following the release of the Laquan McDonald video.

The three findings that a police shooting wasn’t justified in a six-month period is one more than the total number of such rulings by IPRA from the time the agency was created in 2007 to the end of last year. During that time, IPRA investigated 374 incidents in which CPD officers shot someone.

The three officers involved in the two shootings remain on “full duty,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Friday. He said the department is reviewing the findings and would confer with IPRA on potential discipline for the three officers who fired their weapons in the two incidents.

In one of those cases, the city already has paid $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of Ryan Rogers, who was shot to death in 2013 by Officer Daniel Smith outside a house in East Hazel Crest, a home that police had staked out as part of an investigation of a string of cell phone store robberies.

“There was no reason to shoot Ryan ever, at all,” Greg Kulis, a lawyer for Rogers’ family, said Friday. “I’ve talked to the family, and they’re very glad that IPRA has concluded what we knew all along.”

The agency, which has been criticized for the slow pace of its investigations, also found that the shooting of Antwon Golatte five months ago was unjustified.

In both the Smith and Golatte cases, police opened fire on vehicles that were moving away from the officer and posed no threat to them, IPRA found.

Rogers attempted to drive away from Chicago officers who had boxed in his sport-utility on West 171st Street in East Hazel Crest.

Rogers’ girlfriend, who was in the SUV with him, said the officers didn’t announce they were law enforcement, and the couple thought they were about to be robbed when Rogers took off. Rogers, struck in the back, died at a hospital. He had no weapon or stolen merchandise on him or in the SUV.

Though Rogers tried to drive off, IPRA investigators determined that he was not a threat to Smith when the officer shot at the SUV.

“The physical evidence supports that Officer A was not in the path of the vehicle at the time he fired,” its report says. “The preponderance of the evidence leads (the investigator) to conclude that Officer A had moved out of the vehicle’s path, yet still fired his weapon.

“Officer A’s use of deadly force is therefore objectively unreasonable, and a violation of policy.”

Golatte was shot in the side when he tried to drive away from officers who tried to stop him after they said they saw him make a drug buy in Roseland. They said Golatte refused to get out of his SUV and backed into an unmarked squad car as he tried to get away. Two CPD officers, who are not named in the reports, opened fire on Golatte’s car, striking him in the abdomen.

Bullet trajectories showed nearly all the shots were fired from angles that indicate Golatte was driving away from officers, who were a safe distance from the SUV as it pulled away, according to the IPRA report.

“This evidence suggest that, at the time the officers fired their weapons, they were positioned along the driver’s side of the vehicle as it was traveling past them, not in front of the vehicle in harm’s way,” the report says.

According to one officer’s account, after Golatte crashed his truck into a convenience store across the street, he yelled at officers, “You shot me. I’m going to sue you,” though Golatte did not appear to have filed a lawsuit in state or federal court.

The city has paid $500 million in jury awards and settlements in police misconduct cases over the past decade.

IPRA investigations have been portrayed as generally a whitewash by community activists — as well as by a panel of experts appointed by Emanuel — who have faulted the agency for the slow pace of investigations and the exceptionally rare instances in which it’s ruled shootings violated CPD policy.

Emanuel installed Sharon Fairley as head of IPRA in December, after ousting her predecessor, former federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent Scott Ando, who is named in a lawsuit by a former IPRA investigator who says he was fired because he refused to reverse findings against officers.

Emanuel’s handpicked Police Accountability Task Force issued a scathing report on CPD and IPRA earlier this year, calling the civilian oversight agency “beyond repair.” The mayor announced plans to scrap the agency and replace it.

The agency also released findings reports Thursday on five other shootings, all deemed justified.