“It wasn’t a butter knife.”
Kisha Chappell wanted that made clear.
“It was a long silver knife. It had a point on it.”
Chappell, 39, was talking about the weapon wielded by Michele Robey, a mentally ill woman shot dead by police Feb. 10 at Irving Park and Western when she threatened them as they attempted to apprehend her.
Chappell said she saw the knife that night from an uncomfortably close position as Robey swung it in her direction.
Based on that experience, Chappell believes the police were justified in shooting Robey.
“I’m not an advocate of anyone being killed, but she was not going to stop,” Chappell said. “At some point, somebody was going to get hurt.”
A security-camera video of the shooting was released this past week by the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, along with another video of Robey, 55, causing a disturbance minutes earlier inside a nearby pharmacy.
In my column Thursday, I mentioned one of the 911 calls came from a driver who reported seeing a woman at the bus stop screaming and holding what “could be a butter knife.”
That prompted the call from Chappell. She was correct. Television video taken at the scene immediately after the shooting shows what looks like a silver steak knife, or a similar kitchen utensil suitable for cutting meat, in the street near where Robey fell.
Any doubt about whether the knife was sharp was also dispelled by viewing the video of Robey inside the pharmacy as she angrily slashed the seats in the waiting area, shredding them with just two forceful swipes.
As it happens, Chappell wasn’t at the scene either inside or outside the pharmacy. She’s the manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken at Irving Park and California, about half a mile from the shooting, where she says Robey was involved in a separate incident earlier the same evening.
“She jumped on one of my employees,” Chappell said.
She said she heard someone banging on the restaurant window and looked up to see the woman later identified as Robey hitting a teenage worker.
Chappell said she ran outside to intervene, and, when she did, Robey produced the knife and began swinging it.
“She was totally out of control,” Chappell said. “I couldn’t control her. She was swinging the knife, swinging the knife.”
As Robey wielded the knife, Chappell said she kept repeating: “All you [n-word]s need to die! All you [n-word]s need to die!”
But Robey didn’t stab anybody. Instead, she retreated to the bus stop across the street. By the time the police arrived, she was gone.
At that point, Chappell said she felt certain Robey was going to use the knife on someone if she wasn’t caught.
As soon as the police left the restaurant, though, she and her employees returned to work, finished their shifts and didn’t think much about it until learning the next morning of the shooting.
Chappell said no authorities have followed up with her since that night.
Robey’s family has said she suffered from bipolar schizoaffective disorder and was clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis when she was shot. They contend in a federal lawsuit that police failed to “de-escalate the situation.”
Sun-Times reporter Sam Charles reported Friday that police efforts to stop Robey with a Taser were foiled by her multiple layers of clothing.
Police have expanded the use of Tasers in part as an alternative to shooting someone, but this case shows their limitations. People who live on the streets, many of them suffering from mental illness, commonly wear lots of clothing.
I’m still struck by how quickly police officers shot Robey after arriving on the scene — in less than a minute.
Within the boundaries of their training and rules of engagement, the shooting might have been justified.
But Chicago police remain ill-equipped to deal with mentally ill individuals, and this was another sad result.