Johnson: Shooting fleeing suspects in back OK — if they’re armed

SHARE Johnson: Shooting fleeing suspects in back OK — if they’re armed

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson arrives at the Daley Center Thursday to testify in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of a teen who was shot in the back by a police officer. | Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, testifying in a lawsuit brought by the mother of a teen fatally shot in the back by a cop in 2013, said it is permissible for an officer to shoot a fleeing suspect that way— as long as the personis armed.

The statement came at the end of an hour of testimony from Johnson at the Daley Center on Thursday.

Johnson also denied a suggestion by the woman’s lawyerthat it was part of his job “to stick by your colleagues.” Instead, he told attorney Victor Henderson: “If a police officer is wrong, my job is to articulate that.”

Johnson was the highest-ranking officer called to the scene after 17-year-old Christian Green was shot and killed by Officer Robert Gonzalez. He served as the acting street deputy who signed off on police reports.

Hesaid he reviewed and approved all officer battery and tactical-response reports from the Fourth of July shooting.

“When you have a police-involved shooting, the job is to get the facts of why a gun was discharged,” Johnson testified.

Johnson said he stayed at the scene from about 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. before going to Area Central headquarters at 51st and Wentworth to review reports from the shooting for several more hours.

While at the scene, Johnson said, he talked to each officer involved individually. “I want them to tell me their own recollection of what happened,” Johnson said.

Ten minutes into Johnson’s testimony, a member of Green’s family started weeping and was briefly escorted out of the courtroom.

Green was fleeing police when he ran into a vacant lot, raised a gun and pointed it at police, the police department has said.

Within seconds, Green would be fatally shot.

Henderson asked Johnson point blank “is it OK to shoot people in the back?” to which Johnson replied, “Yes.”

Henderson continued, askingif such a decision still couldbe OK if a suspect was running away. “Yes,” Johnson replied.

Henderson wrapped up his questioning of Johnson by askingif shooting a fleeing suspect who was unarmed would be justified.

“No,” the city’s top cop said.

At a couple points during his testimony, Johnson also noted that he’d been shot at earlier in his career. He used the anecdote to illustrateto jurors how quickly somebody can turn and fire a weapon.

Another officer involved in the case, George Hernandez, testified earlier on Thursday.

Hernandez saidthat he’d just steered his unmarked Chevy Tahoe over a curb and into the vacant lot in the Washington Park neighborhood when Green partially turned as he was running full speed and pointed a gun at officers.

Hernandez said he heard his partner, Gonzalez, yell “Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” before Gonzalez opened fire through the front passenger side window.

Gonzalez fired 11 shots from a distance of about 15 or 20 feet, Hernandez testified.

Initial police reports indicated Green had been shot in the chest. But an autopsy revealed that he’d been shot in the back.

Hernandez said on Thursday that after he exited his vehicle in the moments after the shooting, he saw that Green had dropped his gun. The teen reached for it but stumbled and was unable to grab it as his momentum carried him forward about 20 or 30 feet before collapsing, Hernandez said.

Henderson acknowledges that Green was running with a gun — surveillance video captured from a nearby business shows as much — but contends the teen was unarmed and running from policewhen he was shot. That’s because the gun was found 75 feet from Green’s body, Henderson has said.

Hernandez said that after the shooting he met with detectives and Johnson for a “walk through,” a police term in which the officers involved in the shooting provide a detailed account of “what exactly transpired.”

The Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings, determined the officers involved acted within departmental guidelines.

The surveillance video, which was publicly released Thursday, shows Green trying to toss the gun in a garbage can, but the weapon bounces off the rim of the can and falls to the sidewalk; at that point, Green runs back and picks it up.

There’s no video that captures the moment Green was shot.

Gonzalez is slated to testify Friday morning. The trial, which began Tuesday, is expected to last as many as eight more days.

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