Two Chicago Police officers have been recommended for termination for firing at a stolen car speeding away from a South Side traffic stop shortly before the fatal 2016 shooting of Paul O’Neal, the unarmed black teenager who had been at the wheel.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson “concurred” with investigators from the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority, who found that officers Michael Coughlin Jr. and Jose Torres should be fired for endangering the lives of civilians and fellow officers when they shot at the moving car on a residential street, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
IPRA investigators ruled that Officer Jose Diaz, who shot O’Neal, was justified because he thought the 18-year-old had a gun and fired at police. But they recommended a six-month suspension because Diaz didn’t activate his bodycam, and he allegedly kicked O’Neal after the shooting in the backyard of a South Shore home.
IPRA closed their investigation in September 2017, shortly before the embattled oversight agency was replaced by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Johnson in November agreed that Coughlin and Torres should be fired, though it was not clear on Friday what punishment he recommended for Diaz. It will be up to the Chicago Police Board to determine punishment for Coughlin and Torres.
News of the firing recommendations came weeks after COPA ruled Officer Robert Rialmo should be fired for the “unjustified” 2015 fatal shootings of Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones.
The O’Neal shooting happened the evening of July 28, 2016, after the officers tried to pull over a Jaguar convertible that had been reported stolen.
Police bodycam footage released by IPRA shows the Jaguar slam into two police SUVs, with two officers opening fire as it speeds down the residential street. The car crashed near 73rd Street and Merrill.
O’Neal then led officers on a foot chase into a backyard, where Diaz opened fire. The teen died that night of a gunshot wound to the back, an autopsy ruled.
“You f—-ing shoot at us?” one officer asks the prone O’Neal as he is handcuffed in the video released by IPRA. Another officer, searching the teen’s backpack, asks: “Have you got anything on you?”
Police have said O’Neal was unarmed. In the following days, Johnson took the three officers off the street.
A pending federal lawsuit filed by O’Neal’s mother, Tanisha Gibson, claims that after Diaz shot O’Neal, he kicked him “without lawful justification or excuse” as he was laying on the ground, bleeding.
Michael Oppenheimer, Gibson’s attorney, said that “the behavior of Officers Coughlin and Torres is reprehensible and disgusting.”
Oppenheimer said he was glad to see a suspension recommended for Diaz, “but I don’t know why he hasn’t been indicted, let alone suspended or fired.”
“It is because he turned off his body camera that we don’t actually know what happened in that backyard,” he said.
The suit, which claims the officers violated CPD guidelines by firing into a moving vehicle, states that Coughlin shot at the Jaguar nine times, striking the officers’ vehicle twice in the process. Torres fired once.
An officer can be heard on video saying: “I shot at the car after he almost hit you. He almost hit my partner so I f—ing shot at him.”
O’Neal’s shooting sparked outrage among several high-profile West Side gangs who conspired to exact revenge by shooting CPD officers, prompting a police alert, the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time. Police had initially declined to release the officers’ names, saying they could be “in great danger” if their names were made public.
No officers were hurt during the incident.