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Judge clears Chicago police dispatcher Keli McGrath in ‘road rage’ shooting

Keli McGrath | Chicago Police

Keli McGrath | Chicago Police

A Cook County judge on Thursday acquitted Chicago police dispatcher Keli McGrath on attempted murder and aggravated battery charges, finding that McGrath was acting in self-defense when she shot an 18-year-old woman during a struggle touched off by the teenager throwing a cup of soda into McGrath’s car.

The directed verdict by Judge Kenneth Wadas came after two days of testimony in the bench trial, including more than two hours on the stand by the now 20-year-old victim, Selene Garcia.

Wadas said he found Garcia evasive and her answers “self-serving,” and said he was unmoved by the severe internal injuries Garcia suffered from the single gunshot McGrath fired.

McGrath fired “after she was grabbed by the hair and was body-slammed to the ground,” Wadas said. “At that point self-defense comes into play, and firing one shot is not unreasonable self-defense.”

McGrath appeared shocked as she looked from the judge to her attorney, former prosecutor James McKay. Garcia was not in the courtroom on Thursday.

After Wadas made his ruling, McKay asked the judge for the return of McGrath’s Firearm Owner Identification Card and concealed carry license, both of which she surrendered after the July 19, 2017 shooting. McKay said he did not know whether he also would seek the return of her pistol.

Garcia on Wednesday testified that an overly-aggressive lane change and a racial insult prompted her to heave a large McDonald’s soda. Testimony differed as to whether it was Sprite or Dr Pepper throw through McGrath’s open window.

McGrath, then 46, tried to cut Garcia off as Garcia drove with her younger brother and her infant daughter and newborn son down South Ashland Avenue, according to testimony. Garcia wouldn’t let McGrath into the lane, and the two had words when Garcia pulled alongside each other at a red light at 35th Street.

“She said the f—-g Mexicans aren’t worth s–t and she stuck her middle finger out at me,” Garcia testified through a Spanish translator.

“I felt offended and I reacted like any other person would, and I threw the beverage,” she said.

The argument escalated as Garcia said she tried to drive away, veering into a parking lot off Ashland, as McGrath followed her and blocked her from leaving. McGrath shouted that she was armed and was going to call police. Garcia got out of the car and shoved McGrath. Garcia said McGrath shoved her in the face, and, as the two women struggled, McGrath pulled a pistol from a holster on her hip and shot Garcia in the chest.

McGrath’s lawyer and prosecutors sparred with witnesses over whether McGrath pulled the trigger before, or after, Garcia threw the smaller woman to the ground. Garcia was desperate to get away before police arrived, because she had no drivers license and because her infant son and 1-year-old daughter were not in car seats, McKay said.

“(McGrath) was lying there on the sidewalk. She’s thinking she’s gonna die that day,”  McKay said as he argued for the directed verdict. “The state of Illinois tells our citizens, our law-abiding citizens, that you… have a right to carry that gun. And in that situation you have a right to do what she did.”

The bullet “ping-ponged” through Garcia’s torso, Assistant State’s Attorney Maureen McCurry said during her opening statement. Garcia testified that she was hospitalized for more than four months after the shooting, and that her heart was damaged and she lost a kidney and half her liver. She filed a civil lawsuit against McGrath in August 2017. That case is still pending.