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People have ‘right to be upset’ by police shooting, supt. says

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson speaks to reporters about Paul O'Neal's shooting. | Natalie Watts / Sun-Times

Police Supt. Eddie Johnson Saturday said people have a “right to be upset” over the police dashcam and body-camera video, released Friday, showing an 18-year-old man shot to death by officers a little over a week ago in South Shore.

“A lot of people are upset by what they saw,” Johnson said at a news conference Saturday. “And, quite honestly, they have a right to be upset.”

After reviewing the video footage from nine cameras — officers’ body-worn units and dashboard cameras mounted in police vehicles — leading to and following the July 28 fatal shooting of Paul O’Neal, the superintendent said, “I was concerned by some of the things that I saw.”

O’Neal died during surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital of a gunshot wound to the back, an autopsy found. He was shot in the 7300 block of South Merrill Avenue after leading police on a chase in a Jaguar that was reported stolen from Bolingbrook earlier the same day.

After seeing the video, O’Neal’s sister, Briana Adams, 22, called it “very disturbing” Friday. Sharon Fairley, head of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which is investigating O’Neal’s death, called the footage “shocking and disturbing” Friday.

IPRA — which had come under intense criticism in the past for delaying the release of police shooting videos such as that showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being gunned down as he appeared to walk away from officers on the Southwest Side — took just over a week to release the squad-car and body-camera videos involving O’Neal’s shooting.

Three officers who were involved but whose names haven’t been made public have been relieved of their police powers by Johnson and put on desk duty.

One question that O’Neal’s family, which already has filed suit against the as-yet unnamed officers, has raised is why the body camera of the officer who fired the deadly shot wasn’t on. They also questioned why some of the shots were fired as O’Neal was driving away, in what appears to be a violation of department policy.

The video footage from two officers’ body cameras shows the Jaguar bearing down on their police sport-utility vehicle as the officers jumped, guns drawn, from the vehicle and then the Jaguar swerving, sideswiping the SUV and narrowly missing one of them. Both officers then fired at the speeding car as it passed.

Speaking Saturday at police headquarters on the South Side, Johnson would not discuss details of the investigation. But he pointed to the department policy that prohibits officers from shooting at a moving vehicle unless immediately threatened.

Regarding questions about the body cameras, which are now required, Johnson said the officers involved in the shooting had only about four days to get used to the new body-camera technology.

“There’s going to be a learning curve,” he said.

MARY MITCHELL: Body-cam video spotlights Chicago’s policing problems

He also addressed questions about the behavior by officers after the shooting, when the officers appear on the video footage to be confused about whether shots fired by other officers might have come from the car and a sergeant cautions,  “Any statements you’re making in front of peoples’ camera and stuff like that are just killing you.” Johnson said that high-stress situations can cause a surge of adrenaline, and, “You may say things that you might regret later.”

Appearing with Johnson at the news conference, Anne Kirkpatrick, chief of the newly formed Bureau of Organizational Development, said that even though the investigation is ongoing, the department “will not wait” to “begin training reform.”

Johnson said his department “will proceed with full cooperation and transparency” during IPRA’s investigation.

He also said it’s easier to recognize mistakes after the fact.

“It’s not easy to make a split-second decision that might ultimately cost someone their lives,” Johnson said.

Unlike the officers involved in such a situation, he said, “We have hours to go back and dissect it.”

In this frame grab from a body-camera video provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, Chicago police officers handcuff Paul O'Neal, suspected of stealing a car, after they fired into the vehicle he was driving and then pursued him through a yard on July 28.

In this frame grab from a body-camera video provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, Chicago police officers handcuff Paul O’Neal, suspected of stealing a car, after they fired into the vehicle he was driving and then pursued him through a yard on July 28.