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Body cam on cop who fired fatal shot was not recording

A fatal police-involved shooting last week was the first captured on video by the new body cameras being worn by Chicago police officers. | Sun-Times file photo

A body camera worn by the Chicago police officer who fatally shot an 18-year-old man in the back last week was not recording at the time of the shooting, police said Monday.

It’s not clear why the camera was not recording, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Monday.

Moments before Paul O’Neal, 18, was shot and killed in the South Shore neighborhood Thursday night, he’d rammed the Jaguar he was driving into one police car and sideswiped another.

Two officers fired at O’Neal while he was still in the car. Guglielmi said their body cameras were working and captured the discharge of their weapons.

A third officer — who police say fired the fatal shot — opened fire on O’Neal, who was unarmed, after he’d exited the car, hitting him in the back, Guglielmi said.

The Independent Police Review Authority, which is charged with investigating police shootings, will look into why the officer’s body camera did not capture the shooting.

“They’re going to look to see whether the collision damaged the camera,” Guglielmi said Monday. “Whether the camera was on? . . . Did he know how to use it?”

The officers at the scene had only received body cameras a week earlier when they were first introduced to cops at the South Chicago district police station.

Body cam video from the two officers who opened fire — but did not fire the fatal shot — guided Police Supt. Eddie Johnson’s decision the day after the shooting to strip them of their police powers and assign them to desk duty. Johnson said he believed their actions violated official police policy.

Two days after the shooting, Johnson took the same measure against the officer who fired the fatal shot and whose body cam did not record the shooting. Johnson made the decision after the release of an autopsy report that revealed the fatal bullet entered O’Neal’s body from behind.

Johnson would not specify exactly what policy he believed the three officers had violated.

A fourth officer who was on the scene, who also was wearing a body camera, did not fire his weapon and is still on active duty.

Talking to reporters just steps from where O’Neal was fatally shot, an attorney for O’Neal’s family said police had essentially executed the young man.

Attorney Michael Oppenheimer (right), with activist Ja’Mal Green, talks about the fatal shooting of Paul O'’Neal by Chicago Police officers during a press conference near 74th Street and Merrill Avenue on Aug. 1, 2016. | Max Herman for the Sun-Times

Attorney Michael Oppenheimer (right), with activist Ja’Mal Green, talks about the fatal shooting of Paul O’’Neal by Chicago Police officers during a press conference near 74th Street and Merrill Avenue on Aug. 1, 2016. | Max Herman for the Sun-Times

“As unarmed Paul O’Neal ran, the police officers decided they were going to be judge, jury and executioner, and they shot him in the back . . . and they killed him,” said attorney Michael Oppenheimer, who filed a civil suit in federal court on Monday against the unknown officers involved in the shooting. “They murdered him right here, only steps from where we stand.”

Oppenheimer ridiculed the idea that the body camera worn by the police officer believed to have fired the fatal shot was not functioning at the time.

“How convenient that they don’t work,” Oppenheimer said. “If there is not a coverup, I don’t know where there is one.”

An IPRA spokeswoman, as well as Johnson, said Monday that neither dashcam video nor body camera video captured the fatal shot.

To activate a body camera officers are supposed to “click it twice when you get to the call,” said Guglielmi, who did not know if the officer had attempted to turn the camera on.

After activating the camera, the device beeps and will continuously beeps every 30 seconds until it is deactivated, he said.

IPRA, according to a recent policy change, must release video recorded at the scene within 90 days of the shooting.

The shooting marks the first time in the police department’s brief history with officer-worn body cameras that footage was captured at the scene of a fatal shooting.

The shooting happened about 7:30 p.m. in the 7300 block of South Merrill Avenue after the officers tried to pull over the Jaguar, which had been reported stolen earlier that day.

Four officers on the scene of a fatal police-involved shooting were wearing body cameras. Three have been relieved of police powers pending the outcome of an investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority. | Sun-Times file photo

Four officers on the scene of a fatal police-involved shooting were wearing body cameras. Three have been relieved of police powers pending the outcome of an investigation by the Independent Police Review Authority. | Sun-Times file photo

The police body camera pilot program began in January of last year when 30 cameras were introduced to the Shakespeare District on the Northwest Side.

This spring, body cameras were added to six more districts on the South and West Sides that were chosen based on a review of patrol activity, crime patterns, calls for service and geography.

The cameras are able to record up to 72 hours of audio and video on a single charge.

In May, Johnson and First Deputy John Escalante, made a statement by wearing the body cameras in a very public fashion while answering calls for service in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side.

Late last year the city announced the the budget for the expanded program was about $2 million. Half the money came from the city’s pocket, the other half from the U.S. Justice Department. Additional grant money was pending, the city said at the time.

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi could not immediately provide an update Monday morning on the status of the grant.

Also this year, to help defray the cost of police body camera programs, the state tagged on a $5 fee to criminal and traffic offenses resulting in a conviction or guilty plea.

Contributing: Stefano Esposito