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Family rejects suicide in Crane basketball player’s death; CPD says no cop fired

Terinica Thomas, Steve Rosenthal's aunt, weeps as family and friends march in response to the death of Steve Rosenthal on August 19, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago police say there is no evidence that any officer fired a weapon during the Friday night encounter that ended with the death of a 15-year-old Crane High School basketball player.

But in the latest sign of distrust between the community and the Chicago Police Department, Steven Rosenthal’s family marched with activists through North Lawndale on Sunday, rejecting the conclusion that Rosenthal committed suicide.

“My nephew would never commit suicide, ever,” Terinica Thomas, the boy’s aunt and legal guardian, declared Sunday.

Andrew Stroth, civil rights attorney, speaks at a press conference on the death of Steve Rosenthal on August 19, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Thomas made her comment during a press conference outside Johnson School of Excellence, where her family’s lawyer, Andrew Stroth, called for an independent investigation into Rosenthal’s death. He insisted that eyewitnesses saw Rosenthal’s death play out differently, but he did not name them or say how many there are.

“The family is demanding to see the evidence,” Stroth said.

Stroth called on authorities to release footage of Rosenthal’s death. But CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said no footage had been found Sunday that depicts the moment Rosenthal was shot. He said it’s unclear if state law would allow the public release of the existing footage, given how Rosenthal died.

Rosenthal died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head — not in a use-of-force situation — according to official accounts. The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled Rosenthal’s death a suicide following an autopsy Saturday.

Friends and family gather in a circle outside Chicago Police 10th District station in response to the death of Steve Rosenthal on August 19, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Chicago police said officers spotted Rosenthal with a gun and tried to stop him about 6:55 p.m. Friday near his home in the 1500 block of South Keeler. Rosenthal ran away, and then he “tragically used the weapon on himself,” Guglielmi tweeted.

Rosenthal died a half-hour later at Mount Sinai Hospital, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Alonzo Crowder, head coach of boys basketball at Crane Medical Prep High School, said Rosenthal’s mother died of an illness shortly after the season ended in March. Rosenthal’s father died when he was 6.

Still, neighbors and friends say the authorities’ account of Rosenthal shooting himself while running from police was out of character.

Guglielmi said there is no video or ballistic evidence that suggests an officer fired a gun during the encounter with Rosenthal. He also said no officer reported opening fire, as is required by law and department policy.

Guglielmi called Rosenthal’s death “an absolute tragedy.” Asked about the disbelief in the community, he said “suicide is an immensely difficult and painful thing to deal with” and he said, “our deepest condolences go out to this family.”

But Thomas, Stroth and others wanted answers Sunday instead, marching from the school at Douglas and Albany to Mount Sinai before walking to CPD’s 10th district headquarters on Ogden.

Outside the police station, the group first formed a circle on Ogden but eventually converged as they directed their ire toward the few officers standing outside.

They chanted “justice for Steve.” They promised to return every night for 30 days.

And, they insisted, “We want the tape!”

Contributing: Rachel Hinton, Michael O’Brien