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State police investigating cop shooting of teen in Zion

The Illinois State Police are investigating the death of a Zion teen who was shot in the back by an officer over the weekend, a law enforcement source said.

The state police’s Public Integrity Unit is looking into the shooting by a Zion Police officer of 17-year-old Justus Howell. The shooting has sparked community outrage and calls for a state or federal investigation.

It could not be determined Tuesday what investigators had yet uncovered, but it’s not unusual for state police to take part in the investigation of fatal law enforcement shootings in the suburbs.

News of the investigation came as relatives of the teen set funeral services for the boy.

Community members, meanwhile, have set a protest march for Saturday, amid questions over what happened in the shooting of Howell.

The viewing for Howell will be 10 a.m. Friday at First Corinthian Missionary Baptist Church in North Chicago, followed by the funeral, which will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The burial will then take place at the Warren Cemetery in Gurnee.

Family members are said to be inconsolable. They have decided not to respond to police allegations that Howell was shot after trying to steal a gun from a man who was trying to sell it. Nor do they plan to attend the march, according to a family spokesman.

“Their primary focus is a proper burial for their son/grandson at this point,” said Al Rogers, a close friend of the family, who is a retired administrator for the Waukegan Public Schools. “The one fact they know is that their son/grandson is dead, and he was shot in the back by a member of law enforcement. Everything else right now is speculation.”

Howell’s mother and father have, naturally, been hit the hardest by their son’s death, Rogers said.

“I don’t think the mother even understands that her son is no longer with them,” Rogers said.

Community members have set the march for 2 p.m. Saturday, about the time of Howell’s death, beginning at 24th and Galilee in Zion, the place he was shot.

“We are going to demand that the [U.S.] Justice Department take over the investigation,” said Clyde McLemore, a community activist and precinct committeeman. “We don’t want the [Zion] police doing the investigation.”

From that corner, marchers will walk to the police department, he said.

According to Rogers, the family will not attend the march.

“The family does not endorse a march by anyone at this time,” Rogers said. “They want things to remain peaceful and ensure that things do not get out of hand.”

An online fundraising account titled “Justice for Justus” has been set up by Howell’s grandmother.

On the website, she writes, “In 48 hours we are trying to raise $13,000 for the family whose child was shot and killed by a City of Zion police officer. This act of evil has devastated the whole family and has come at an unexpected time while the family is experiencing financial difficulties.”

Autopsy results released Monday showed that Howell was shot twice in the back. Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd said Howell suffered two wounds to his torso; one hit his spleen, liver and heart; the other struck the back of his right shoulder, Rudd said.

Zion Police issued a statement Monday night saying Howell was trying to steal a gun from a man who was trying to sell it.

A fight ensued, and the gun discharged into the ground, police said. The alleged seller, Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst, let go of the handgun when he heard police coming and saw officers running after Howell, who still had the gun, according to the statement. Peet also heard the officers give Howell commands and heard the gunshots.

Tramond Peet. |  Lake County Sheriff's Office photo

Tramond Peet. | Lake County Jail photo

Police confirmed that the officer who shot Howell is a 32-year-old, 9-year police veteran. They declined to name him but said he had been placed on paid administrative leave.

Peet faces two charges of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. He was ordered held on $15,000 bail on Monday, according to the statement.

At an invitation-only community meeting Monday afternoon at the Christian Assembly of God Church in Zion were attendees who included Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim, Zion Police Chief Sam H. Dumyahn, members of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force and representatives of the Lake County NAACP.

The meeting was called by the Zion Police Department, Rogers said. No one from the family was invited to the meeting, he said.