No cops to be charged in 2016 shooting of Paul O’Neal
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No charges will be filed against any Chicago Police officers in connection with the July 2016 shooting death of Paul O’Neal.
“After a thorough review of the evidence, including dashboard and body camera recordings, witness interviews, and physical evidence, the Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney determined that criminal charges against the officers are not appropriate in this case,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement on Friday.
The O’Neal shooting happened the evening of July 28, 2016, after the officers tried to pull over a Jaguar convertible that had been reported stolen.
Police bodycam footage released by the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority shows the Jaguar slam into two police SUVs, with two officers opening fire as it speeds down the residential street. The car crashed near 73rd Street and Merrill.
O’Neal, 18, then led officers on a foot chase into a backyard, where CPD officer Jose Diaz opened fire. The teen died that night of a gunshot wound to the back, an autopsy ruled.
“You f—-ing shoot at us?” one officer asks the prone O’Neal as he is handcuffed in the video released by IPRA. Another officer, searching the teen’s backpack, asks: “Have you got anything on you?”
Police have said O’Neal was unarmed. In the following days, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson took the three officers off the street.
The state’s attorney’s office said that two of the officers “were placed in reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm” when O’Neal drove toward them. The third officer who shot “reasonably believed that O’Neal had fired at the police, although in fact those shots were fired by fellow officers.”
“Because the evidence at any trial would have established that each of the shooting officers had a reasonable belief in the justified use of deadly force, there was no basis to support a criminal charge against those officers,” the state’s attorney’s office said.
Michael Oppenheimer, the attorney for O’Neal’s mother Tanisha Gibson, said he believes Diaz “is absolutely lying about how and why he shot Paul O’Neal.”
“Being in a stolen car is not a good thing,” Oppenheimer said. “But it’s a property crime, not a death sentence.”
Two officers who shot at, but didn’t strike O’Neal have been recommended for termination for their actions in the shooting.
Johnson “concurred” with investigators from IPRA, who found that officers Michael Coughlin Jr. and Jose Torres should be fired for endangering the lives of civilians and fellow officers when they shot at the moving car on a residential street, CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi previously said.
IPRA investigators ruled that Diaz was justified because he thought O’Neal had a gun and fired at police. But they recommended a six-month suspension because Diaz didn’t activate his bodycam, and he allegedly kicked O’Neal after the shooting in the backyard of a South Shore home.
A pending federal lawsuit filed by Gibson claims the officers violated CPD guidelines by firing into a moving vehicle, states that Coughlin shot at the Jaguar nine times, striking the officers’ vehicle twice in the process. Torres fired once.
Asked if the decision by the state’s attorney’s office will have any impact on the lawsuit, Oppenheimer said: “The federal case is proceeding along. I think [Diaz] is lying and that they’re all in trouble.”
An officer can be heard on video saying: “I shot at the car after he almost hit you. He almost hit my partner, so I f—ing shot at him.”
O’Neal’s shooting sparked outrage among several high-profile West Side gangs who conspired to exact revenge by shooting CPD officers, prompting a police alert, the Chicago Sun-Times reported at the time.
Police had initially declined to release the officers’ names, saying they could be “in great danger” if their names were made public.
No officers were hurt during the incident.