Johnson discusses decision to strip 3 cops of powers

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Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson discusses a police-involved shooting. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said he was left “more questions than answers” after watching a video of a fatal police shooting last week.

“I can’t go into the specifics of it, but I just have some concerns over some of the things that I did view in the video,” Johnson said, referring to body camera and dashcam video of the shooting Thursday night in the South Shore neighborhood.

Three officers have been placed on desk duty.

Johnson, who said it appears the shooting violated departmental policy, made the comments at a news conference Sunday at police headquarters.

Johnson was asked if the officers’ level of experience played a role in the shooting. The officers all had less than three years on the job.

“Yeah, it goes to their in . . . ,” he said, stopping himself mid-word. “Listen, let me just be clear about something. I said from Day One, when officers engage in intentional misconduct or inappropriate behavior they have to be held accountable. But we also have to understand honest mistakes can be made at the same time.”

“These officers have to make these decisions in a split second. We have the luxury of going back and reviewing video, sitting at home or sitting in our offices and reviewing actions that police officers make. Having been in shootings and car chases myself, I know how quickly you have to make those decisions. So if it’s an honest mistake, then we’ll get them training, coaching, mentoring and get them back out there. If it’s intentional misconduct, then they have to be held accountable for it.”

The shooting happened about 7:30 p.m. in the 7300 block of South Merrill Avenue after the officers tried to pull over a Jaguar convertible that had been reported stolen earlier that day. The driver of the Jaguar, Paul O’Neal, rammed one police car head-on and sideswiped another, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Sunday.

Two officers shot into the Jaguar. Police believe the fatal bullet came from a third officer who, an autopsy concluded, shot O’Neal in the back after he’d exited the Jaguar and ran, Guglielmi said.

A 17-year-old boy who was in the car with O’Neal has been charged with possession of a stolen vehicle.

Johnson and his staff relieved two officers of their police powers Friday after spending most of the day reviewing reports and video. After the autopsy results were released Saturday, Johnson again called his staff into the office for further review and decided to relieve the third officer as well, Guglielmi said.

Johnson took the pro-active measure as the Independent Police Review Authority conducts the official investigation to determine if any policies or laws were violated in the shooting. IPRA will then recommend any disciplinary action and hand their findings to Cook County state’s attorney’s office to weigh charges.

Video of the shooting has not been made public, but a new policy requires the video to be released within 60 days.

A fourth officer on the scene did not fire a weapon and remains on active duty.

All four officers were wearing body cameras.

“They didn’t take off their body cameras. The officers thought they had been fired upon so they were checking themselves for possible injuries, but according to our general orders, you roll your body camera until the incident has concluded,” Guglielmi said.

Johnson would not say what policy he believes the officers violated and wouldn’t discuss details of what the video contains.

“While I can’t go into specifics or answer questions about the incident, given the ongoing investigation, what I can tell you is that CPD is committed to proceeding with transparency and accountability for whatever is found in this investigation,” he said.

“I’ve said it publicly many times that CPD is only as strong as the faith that the community has in it, and I’m committed to keeping my promise to all Chicagoans to restore that faith, while also never losing sight of the courage, commitment and sacrifice the men and women of the Chicago Police Department make every day.”

The move comes only days after IPRA recommended that three officers be fired for 2013 shootings it deemed unjustified. The two shooting incidents involved officers shooting into vehicles. IPRA ruled the officers were not in danger when they fired their weapons.

In the past two months, the police oversight group has decided more police shootings were unwarranted than it had in its previous previous nine years of existence.

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