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Charges dropped against U of C student shot by campus police

Charles Thomas successfully completed a court diversion program for first time felony offenders and the standard practice is to dismiss charges afterwards, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said Friday.

Charles Thomas
Charles Thomas
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Cook County prosecutors dropped aggravated assault and criminal damage to property charges against a former University of Chicago student accused of assaulting a campus police officer who shot him near the Hyde Park school, court records show.

Charles Thomas successfully completed a court diversion program for first time felony offenders and the standard practice is to dismiss charges afterwards, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office said Friday.

Prosecutors told Judge Peter Gonzalez they were dropping the charges at a hearing on May 12, according to records.

Thomas and his lawyers in the criminal case could not be reached for comment Friday.

Thomas was shot by a university police officer on April 3, 2018 after residents reported seeing the fourth-year political science major smashing windows on cars and apartment buildings.

Video from the body camera of the officer who shot Thomas showed the student shouting and approaching with an object authorities believed to be a crowbar. The officer can be heard repeatedly telling Thomas to drop the object before Thomas runs toward the officer and is shot. The object Thomas was holding was later identified by police as a tent stake.

Thomas’ mother told the university’s student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, that he had not been previously diagnosed with any mental illnesses, but that the family had a history of bipolar disorder. Thomas’ mother believed he was having a mental breakdown brought on by stresses at school.

Shortly before the shooting, Thomas, who was a member of UChicago’s crew team, had sought counseling at the school, one of his roommates told the Chicago Sun-Times.

A little more than a year after Thomas was released on bond and placed on electronic monitoring, he was reported missing. He was eventually taken into custody in northwest Indiana, where he was Tasered by police officers while apparently suffering another mental health episode. He was charged with escape in the out-of-state incident but that charge was also dropped last week.

Hyde Park area residents and University of Chicago students rally in protest of the shooting of student Charles Thomas by a University of Chicago Police officer on April 6, 2018.
Hyde Park area residents and University of Chicago students rally in protest of the shooting of student Charles Thomas by a University of Chicago Police officer on April 6, 2018.
Max Herman for the Sun-Times

Last spring, Thomas and his family filed a lawsuit against the university and the officer who shot him, alleging that the school was negligent and the officer’s use of force was unjustified.

Chicago police and the university reviewed the shooting and determined it was legally justified, university spokesman Jeremy Manier said.

Attorney Steve Greenberg, who is representing Thomas in the pending civil case, was pleased with the state’s attorney’s office’s decision to drop the charges.

“I think the state recognized that this was a mental health issue and not a criminal act,” Greenberg said Friday.

The shooting led to protests on campus where students called on police to change the way officers deal with those experiencing mental health issues.

All members of the school’s police force receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training, which focuses on recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness, Manier said.

“Supporting the safety and well-being of those on campus and within [University of Chicago Police Department’s] extended patrol area is of paramount importance for all members of the UCPD,” Manier said in a statement. “The University will continue to work with its community stakeholders to develop appropriate strategies to address this important topic.”

The university announced earlier this year it was forming a new Student Crisis Response Working team to explore improvements to it policies, Manier added.