A man shot by a Zion police officer last year is suing the north suburb, claiming he “posed no threat” to officers and that the use of potentially deadly force against him was “excessive.”
Devon Davidson, 25, became the third man to be shot by Zion police in fewer than two years’ time when Officer Paul Sage shot him through the window of his car around 11 p.m. on July 26, 2016.
In all three shootings, the Lake County state’s attorney’s office has refused to bring criminal charges against the officers, saying they acted in fear of their lives. Two of the men died; Davidson survived. The families of the deceased men also have sued the city of Zion, with those cases pending.
According to Davidson’s lawsuit, filed late Thursday, a bullet hit Davidson in the chest, “severely wounding him.”
The shooting occurred after Sage and another officer chased Davidson until he pulled into his mother’s house, where he hit a vehicle parked in the driveway. Sage then approached Davidson’s vehicle with his weapon drawn. Davidson put his car in reverse, hitting Sage’s squad car and then started to drive away when Sage fired into his window.
Davidson was being pursued for driving under the influence, for which he was eventually convicted. He also was convicted of driving with a suspended or revoked license.
“If you watch the video, the officer is moving aggressively toward the vehicle with his weapon drawn and not in any danger or threat,” said Andrew Stroth, Davidson’s attorney, who also is representing the families of the two men killed by Zion police. “Given the climate as it relates to white officers and young black men, Devon was afraid Officer Sage was going to shoot and kill him.”
Stroth also is representing the family of Jose Nieves, who was shot and killed by off-duty Chicago police officer Lowell Houser, who was charged with murder on Wednesday.
Davidson’s lawsuit alleges his shooting is part of a pattern of poor training and supervision of the Zion Police Department.
An expert who reviewed case files said the shooting appears to violate Department of Justice guidelines. According to the Justice Department, “An officer in the path of an approaching vehicle shall attempt to move to a position of safety rather than discharging a firearm at the vehicle or any occupants of the vehicle.”
“A moving vehicle alone does not present an imminent threat,” said Michael Masters, a former chief of staff for ex-Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weiss. Masters now works as an expert in police accountability and reform.
Masters noted that there was a civilian in the area at the time of the shooting. Officer Sage “still discharged, placing another individual at risk,” Masters said. “This is one of the reasons that the Department of Justice does not sanction firing at moving vehicles.”
In an investigative report by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, Sage stated that he drew his firearm “because he was conducting a felony traffic stop on the driver.” Sage also stated that he shot Davidson because “he believed he was going to be run over by him and dragged underneath the car.”
The Zion Police Department also hired an outside firm called Force Science to review the shooting. In that company’s 14-page report, author William Lewinski, Ph.D., concluded that Davidson created “an apparent and almost immediate threat” for Officer Sage. Sage’s actions were justified, he wrote, “to prevent being run over by Mr. Davidson and to prevent the escape of Mr. Davidson.”
In April 2015, Zion police shot 17-year-old Justus Howell twice in the back while Howell was trying to flee from a police officer. Police said he had a weapon in his hand.
In January 2016, a police officer fatally shot 38-year-old Charles Hollstein, who was mentally challenged according to his family, during a tussle after a report that he was taking pictures outside of a Zion school.
Zion is a city of less than 25,000 people with an African American population of just over 30 percent, according to the U.S. Census. The proliferation of police-involved shootings there has angered activists.
“Since the Justus Howell killing we have been calling for diversity and sensitivity training for the Zion Police Department, and nothing has been done,” said Clyde McLemore, chairman of the Lake County Chapter of Black Lives Matter. “They keep saying that they don’t have the money.
“However, the DOJ came to Waukegan to provide sensitivity training and invitations were sent out to local police departments and officials, but the Zion mayor and police department refused.”
Zion officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim declined to comment about the Davidson lawsuit, but he elaborated generally on his office’s decision not charge Zion police officers in the three shooting cases.
“We are prohibited from commenting on this specific case because there is litigation pending,” Nerheim said. “But when we make determinations on these cases, we do not rule them ‘justified’ per se, but rather that there is insufficient evidence to prove the officers guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of a particular crime.”