A woman who lives next door to a south suburban bar where a police officer shot and killed a security guard who was trying to subdue a gunman said Wednesday that the officer seemed “panicked” before he shot and didn’t give the guard enough time to respond to his commands.
“He yelled something, either, ‘get down’ or ‘get on the ground,’ and it was like before he got the last word out, he fired. He never gave him a chance,” said the woman, who said she had yet to be interviewed by police or other investigators about what she saw outside Manny’s Blue Room bar in Robbins early Sunday.
Jemel Roberson had been working security at Manny’s when a gunman opened fire inside the tavern, injuring four people, police said. Roberson had managed to subdue the shooter in a parking lot on the west side of the bar before police arrived at the scene; the gunman is now in custody. But a white police officer from neighboring Midlothian who responded to the scene saw Roberson, who was armed, and fatally shot him. Roberson, 26, was African-American.
The case has since attracted national attention.
The State Police, which is investigating the Midlothian officer’s use of force, said late Tuesday that a “preliminary investigation” revealed that Roberson was “in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a Security Guard” when he was shot. A state police spokesman did not respond to a request for an update on the investigation Wednesday.
But accounts from witnesses like the neighbor have led lawyers for Roberson’s family to push back on the version of the shooting offered in the report by State Police.
Greg Kulis, a lawyer representing Roberson’s mother in a lawsuit against the south suburb, said Roberson was actually wearing a hat with “security” stitched on it, and the Midlothian cop either didn’t hear or ignored the panicked shouts of other officers at the scene as he opened fire.
‘Your normal coverup language’
The woman who lives next door, who asked not to be named, said she heard the shots Sunday night and came out on her porch overlooking the parking lot after it appeared to her that police had arrived and the danger had passed.
“I wouldn’t have been on my porch if I thought there was still something going on,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “It seemed to me like the situation had been pretty much rectified.”
From just a few yards away, the woman said she saw Roberson on top of the apparent gunman, then saw the white Midlothian officer burst out of side door with a rifle raised. That’s when he yelled at Roberson to get down to the ground, she said, and quickly pulled the trigger.
After the first shot, other officers surrounding Roberson and the gunman — as well as other bystanders— shouted at the Midlothian officer to stop shooting, she said. He then fired another three or four rounds, the woman said. The woman said she saw police squads from the Robbins, Midlothian and Posen and the Cook County Sheriff’s police at the scene.
“Even if they didn’t talk to me, those officers at the scene should tell what they saw. I don’t know what was going through [the Midlothian officer’s] head,” she said. “I don’t want to say race had anything to do with it, or that he came out there wanting to shoot someone. It seemed to me like he came out of there panicked, and started shooting.”
The woman’s account is similar to those from other witnesses, said Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the mother of Roberson’s 9-month-old child. The preliminary State Police statement seems to indicate that, three days after the shooting, investigators have already concluded there was no wrongdoing, he said.
“That statement uses your normal coverup language we hear,” Merritt said Wednesday as he surveyed the rows of candles that friends arranged to spell out “Jemel” at the shooting scene in the Manny’s parking lot. “We have statements and evidence that are going in the opposite direction from their investigation.”
Midlothian Police have put the officer — who has been on the force for four years after three years at another agency — on paid leave. A statement on the department’s Facebook page called Roberson “a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation at Manny’s Blue Room.”
‘Blue on blue,’ ‘friendly fire’ incident
“The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family and his friends. There are no words that can be expressed as to the sorrow his family is dealing with,” the Police Chief Daniel Delaney said in a press release.
“We view this as the equivalent of a ‘blue on blue,’ friendly fire incident,” he said.
At a village board meeting Wednesday night, Midlothian Mayor Gary L’Heureux again offered “our deepest condolences and sympathies” to Roberson’s family, but preempted any discussion of the shooting, citing the pending federal lawsuit. He said the local force does not wear body cameras.
“There are no words to express our profound sadness and sorrow for the horrible tragedy that occurred early Sunday morning,” L’Heureux said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Ebony Hagler, an activist from nearby Harvey, asked the mayor to identify the officer.
“It’ll all be made public when the time comes,” L’Heureux said.