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Shooting of ‘hero’ security guard by cop outrages protesters; mom wants justice

Linda Kenyatta, Chicago, with demonstrators in front of the Midlothian Police Department Tuesday were angry about the shooting of Jemel Roberson Sunday. |Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

The mother of a security guard who was fatally shot by a police officer outside a south suburban bar said she didn’t know if cops had mistaken her son for a gunman involved in a shooting in the bar.

“I don’t know if it was a mistake or not,” Beatrice Roberson said in a brief interview Tuesday, two days after her son, Jemel Roberson, was killed.

But she added: “I do want to see justice done.”

The incident unfolded after a shooting injured four people at Manny’s Blue Room Tavern in Robbins early Sunday morning. A Midlothian police officer — who came to the scene to provide assistance to local police — ended up turning his weapon on Roberson, an armed security guard who had jumped into action himself in response to the shooting inside the bar moments earlier, authorities said.

Roberson, 26, a graduate of Lane Tech, lived in Homan Square on the West Side. He was black.

The officer who shot him is white, Midlothian Police Chief Dan Delaney noted in a statement issued Tuesday. The statement did not include the officer’s name or any other details. The officer has been put on administrative leave, a police official confirmed Tuesday.

Eric Russell with Tree of Life Justice League of Illinois, leads a demonstration outside the Midlothian Police Department Tuesday to protest the shooting of Jemel Roberson on Sunday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Eric Russell with Tree of Life Justice League of Illinois, leads a demonstration outside the Midlothian Police Department Tuesday to protest the shooting of Jemel Roberson on Sunday. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

The lack of detailed information about the incident, which has drawn national attention, sparked criticism of the department. Two dozen protesters marched outside the Midlothian Police Department Tuesday afternoon demanding “Justice for Jemel.”

“He is a hero to us. We are absolutely outraged at his execution,” activist Eric Russell said. “This is reminiscent of Jason Van Dyke. How is it that a responding police officer from a neighboring community gets out of the car with guns blazing?”

Said Robbins resident Nathson Fields: “Jemel was doing his job. He was doing the right thing. He saved people’s lives, and they just blew him away.”

A meeting of the Robbins village council was canceled Tuesday night when not enough trustees turned out.

Robbins Mayor Tyrone Ward said Manny’s Blue Room has been temporarily shut down due to the investigation, although he noted the village hasn’t had major issues with the bar in the past.

“Periodically there have been fights and brawls, just like at any other bar or club,” Ward said.

He lamented the involvement of the outside officer.

“I wish it would’ve been one of our guys [from the Robbins Police Department] that came across that situation, because they may have been more familiar with security,” Ward said.

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The Cook County sheriff’s office is investigating the initial barroom shooting. At least one of the wounded was considered to be a shooter and remained in custody Tuesday, spokeswoman Sophia Ansari, said.

Investigators were still trying to obtain video evidence. Two security cameras appeared to be in place outside the club, though the sheriff’s office declined to comment on the indoor surveillance.

Illinois State Police are investigating the officer’s use of force. Roberson had a valid FOID card but didn’t have a concealed carry license, authorities said.

The Cook County medical examiner’s office concluded Roberson died of multiple gunshot wounds and ruled his death a homicide.

Roberson’s mother has filed a lawsuit over the slaying claiming excessive force, and her attorney, Greg Kulis, said that the security guard was dressed in black and wearing a hat at the time of the shooting that said “security” on it.

Illinois State Police issued a statement late Tuesday saying Roberson was “in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a security guard,” according to their preliminary investigation. The Midlothian officer gave Roberson “multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground before ultimately discharging his weapon,” state police claim.
Tristan Roberson and the boy's father Jemel Roberson.

Jemel Roberson and his son Tristan Roberson. | Avontea Boose via AP

‘He’s a security guard!’

When police arrived at the scene, Roberson was holding “somebody on the ground with his knee in his back, with his gun in his back,” witness Adam Harris told WGN-TV.

“Everybody is screaming out, ‘He’s a security guard!'” Harris said.

Another security guard at the bar said that the Midlothian officer jumped onto the bar and waved an assault rifle before running outside and fatally shooting Roberson, Kulis said.

Kulis said the surviving guard told him that the officer pointed a gun at him until he screamed at him that he was a security guard.

“That’s when he jumped off the bar, waving the gun and ran outside the door,” said Kulis, who declined to identify the other security guard.

Kulis also echoed witness reports that Roberson was holding down another man outside the bar when the officer arrived and shot him.

The lawsuit alleges excessive force by the Midlothian police officer and says the shooting was “unprovoked” and “unjustified.”

Kulis said he is trying to gather information about the white officer, who he said came to the Midlothian department four years ago from another department and is a member of a SWAT team

Midlothian issued a statement that stopped short of apologizing.

“The Village of Midlothian and its Police Department would like to express their heartfelt condolences to the family of Jemel Roberson,” said Nick Valadez, an attorney for Midlothian.

Valdez declined to comment on the suit. The police department in a separate statement on its Facebook page called Roberson “a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation at Manny’s Blue Room.”

On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois condemned the shooting death.

“Working as a security guard while black should not be a death sentence,” said Karen Sheley, an official with ACLU of Illinois. “In this case, police were more dangerous to him than an active shooter who he
apparently subdued.”

“Here, a police officer’s assumptions about Mr. Roberson, apparently impacted by bias, rather than a clear-headed assessment of the situation, resulted in a tragedy,” she said.

 

The parking lot where security guard Jemel Roberson was killed. | Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

The parking lot where security guard Jemel Roberson was killed. | Mitch Armentrout/Sun-Times

On Tuesday, loved ones marked the spot Roberson was shot in the club’s parking lot with candles spelling out his name. Scrawled onto the keys of a toy piano placed next to the candles was the message: “You playing with the greatest of greats now.”

“He was an organist and a loving son,” Beatrice Roberson said. “He played at different churches. A good person, hard working person. He loved his family, a church-going person.”

The Rev. Marvin Hunter said Roberson was “an upstanding young man” and a promising keyboard player at his church and several other ones in the area.

Roberson was trying to “get enough money together for a deposit on a new apartment,” said Hunter, the great-uncle of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager fatally shot by Van Dyke in 2014.

Roberson, a father of an infant son, also had hopes of someday becoming a police officer, according to the mother of his son.

“This was going to be my baby’s first Christmas with his dad and now he’s going to miss out on everything,” said Avontea Boose.

A GoFundMe page has been started to help cover burial expenses for Roberson and assist his family.

The full statement from Illinois State Police can be read below:

Contributing: AP, Sam Charles