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Emanuel calls police shooting of Paul O’Neal a ‘horrible thing’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the police shooting of Paul O'Neal a "horrible thing." | Sun-Times file photo

The police shooting of Paul O’Neal is a “horrible thing” and a “tragedy,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday, but he refused to pass judgment on the three officers involved until all of the facts are in.

“There’s a gut reaction because it’s a loss of life, and I think it’s a horrible thing. As I said, it’s a tragedy,” Emanuel said.

“The superintendent took his immediate steps on both the material — getting it out — as well as what he’s done with the officers. . . . I support the superintendent’s decision, the swiftness of the decisions and the certainty around those decisions. . . . [But] I’m reserving any judgment while it’s in the middle of the investigation because there’s a lot of questions. . . . There are more questions at this time than answers, and I don’t want to jump to a conclusion until we know some basic fundamental facts.”

Emanuel would not veer from that script, even after a reporter noted that it “seems like” officers involved in the events leading up to the O’Neal shooting violated Chicago Police Department policy, underscoring the need for more training.

About 15 shots were fired at the stolen Jaguar driven by O’Neal, an apparent violation of the CPD policy that prohibits police officers from firing their weapons at a fleeing vehicle if the vehicle itself poses the only threat to the safety of officers and bystanders.

The shots were fired by officers even though their colleagues appeared to be in the line of fire.

More about the shooting of Paul O’Neal

“The key part of what you said is ‘seems.’ So, here’s what I’ll say: There’s a loss of life and it’s a tragedy. And I don’t want to make any further judgment until they are concluded with their investigation,” the mayor said.

“Then we’ll all have the conclusions when the report is done and whatever judgments [need to be made]. You said ‘it seems.’ And you can’t jump to conclusions until the investigation is completed,” he said.

But what about the fact that the body camera worn by the officer who shot the 18-year-old in the back after he abandoned a car reported stolen in Bolingbrook did not capture the actual shooting?

“It’s a fair question. You knew that just went in a week earlier. That’s gonna be part of the investigation,” Emanuel said.

“It’s fair to ask the questions. But until the conclusion of the review by both IPRA and the state’s attorney, I don’t want to jump to a conclusion. I’ll wait to hear from Eddie Johnson, the superintendent,” he said.

The mayor was asked his “gut reaction” to the audio and video tapes released Friday.

They show the frenetic police chase through a quiet residential neighborhood that damaged several police vehicles, led to a foot chase and fatal shooting and ultimately show Chicago Police officers handcuffing O’Neal as he lay dying in the backyard of a South Shore home.

The tapes, released with record speed, also show confusion over where gunshots were coming from and angst about the implications for officers and the 30 days of desk duty that lie ahead whenever there’s a fatal police shooting.

The officer who fired the fatal shots can also be heard acknowledging that he did not know whether O’Neal was armed. O’Neal did not have a gun.

“Look, there’s a gut reaction because it’s a loss of life and I think it’s a horrible thing. And as I said, it’s a tragedy,” the mayor said.

By withholding judgment on the three officers stripped of their police powers after O’Neal’s death, Emanuel is continuing to walk a political tightrope.

For months, the mayor has been trying to craft a new system of police accountability — with the appropriate level of public input — to restore public trust shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

And he has been trying just as desperately to coax Chicago Police officers concerned about being caught on the next YouTube video out of a defensive crouch blamed, in part, for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings and a precipitous drop in police activity.

After police officers were ambushed by lone gunmen in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Emanuel urged Chicagoans to “drop the hot rhetoric” and find a way to thank police officers who feel “almost hunted.”

The Fraternal Order of Police is urging rank-and-file police officers to turn down all requests for “non-mandatory overtime” over Labor Day weekend to protest “continued disrespect of Chicago Police officers and the killing of officers across our country.”