The mother of a man fatally shot by a Chicago Police officer in November is taking the officer and the city to court over her son’s death.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court accuses Officer Julio Garcia of recklessly killing 24-year-old Aquoness Cathery and deliberately misusing his body camera during the incident, court documents show.
Cathery’s mother, Lashundia Key, also alleges police falsely claimed her son was armed at the time of the shooting.
Police said at the time that Cathery, who lived in the Park Manor neighborhood, was carrying a handgun when he was shot on Nov. 29, 2017, in the 6100 block of South King Drive. The shooting happened after plainclothes officers from the Grand Crossing District had responded about 2:15 p.m. to a report of shots fired in the same block.
After the shooting, a police spokesman tweeted a photo from the scene that showed a black handgun resting on stairs. Bodycam footage released in January, 60 days after the shooting, appeared to show that same handgun on the stairs where Cathery was shot.
Cathery was pronounced dead at Stroger Hospital less than 12 hours after he was shot, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office.
The bodycam footage released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability begins with Garcia hustling up a set of wooden stairs and breaking through the front door of an apartment with at least three people inside.
Key’s lawsuit says her son had left the apartment moments earlier after visiting a friend who lived there.
After busting into the apartment, the officer then runs into the kitchen, where he sees Cathery running through the back door and out onto a shared porch area. The video shows Cathery holding a gun in his right hand as he turns right to run down a set of stairs. As he is turning, Cathery’s right arm is pressed against the handrail to the stairs and the gun appears to be pointed in the officer’s direction. As Cathery rounds the stairs, the officer opens fire.
The officer partly blocks his bodycam as he walks down the stairs. The audio turns on as Cathery is seen lying on the ground, with his feet on the bottom two stairs as the officer tells him to “relax” before calling for an ambulance as someone screams in the background. As he’s on the ground, Cathery raises his hands, one of them covered in blood, and looks at the officer, who tells him, “It’s OK.”
“I got one person shot,” the officer tells the dispatcher. “Shots fired by police. Shots fired by police.”
Seconds later, another officer walks down the stairs, and the officer who shot Cathery tells him, “Secure that weapon” that is on the stairs.
The lawsuit alleges Garcia intentionally turned off or disabled the audio on his body camera to hide evidence of verbal commands, warnings, gunshots or any other interaction between him and Cathery. As Cathery lay bleeding on the ground, “Garcia stopped on the stairs above [Cathery] and covered his body camera,” the suit says. “Garcia then stopped obscuring the camera and went down the remaining stairs. It was only then that the audio on Garcia’s body camera turned on.”
The lawsuit also says one of Garcia’s bullets went through a neighbor’s living room window, and that the officer “falsely claimed” Cathery was holding a handgun and pointed it at Garcia before the shooting.
Court records show that in the six years before his death, Cathery was arrested several times, mostly on charges related to guns and drugs. In 2014, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison after he was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The six-count, nine-page lawsuit seeks monetary damages for wrongful death, reckless conduct, intentional emotional distress, and battery, among other claims. The mother of Cathery’s 2-year-old daughter is also listed as a plaintiff.
Chicago police declined to comment and referred questions to COPA. A COPA representative was not immediately available.