Two Chicago officers involved in a shooting that left a suspect dead were relieved of their police powers even as the case is still being investigated, police say. The officers may have violated departmental polices in the shooting of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal of Chicago, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Friday in explaining why Superintendent Eddie Johnson relieved the officers of their police powers. He added that the department is still reviewing the actions of a third officer involved in the shooting.
The shooting occurred during a stolen vehicle investigation. Chicago police said that officers stopped a stolen Jaguar convertible Thursday evening in the city’s South Shore neighborhood and were exiting their own vehicle when the driver sped away, sideswiping a squad car and a parked vehicle in the process. The department said that two officers fired their weapons, wounding O’Neal, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. The department said some officers were injured, but that their injuries were not considered life-threatening.
“At this moment the department has, unfortunately, more questions than we do answers,” Guglielmi said. O’Neal was black; police have not provided information on the officers’ races. The handling of officer-involved shootings in Chicago has come under intense scrutiny since the release last November of a video that shows a white officer fatally shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times. That shooting, and the initial statements by a union spokesman about McDonald lunging at police that turned out to contradict what was on the video, raised serious questions about what the public was being told about police shootings.
In contrast, beginning Thursday night, officials made a point of explaining all they were doing to investigate the South Shore shooting. Not only was First Deputy Superintendent John Escalante on the scene speaking to the media, but investigators from the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police misconduct cases and officer-involved shootings, arrived and obtained footage from cameras that the officers were wearing or were mounted on their squad cars. IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac said the footage would be posted online within 60 days, per city policy.
Among the questions investigators will try to answer is whether O’Neal was involved with the theft of the vehicle earlier in the day in the suburb of Bolingbrook. Another question is what, exactly, led the officers to open fire. One thing they do know: When the incident was over, police did not find a gun, either on the street or inside the stolen vehicle, Guglielmi said Friday.
One issue that the department and IPRA must address is whether officers followed department policy by shooting at the vehicle. In February 2015, former Superintendent Garry McCarthy revised the department’s policy on the use of deadly force to prohibit officers from “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.”
But while no gun was found, the policy also says that officers “will not unreasonably endanger themselves or another person to conform to the restrictions of this directive,” meaning they had the right to defend themselves if they or someone else were in imminent danger of being struck by the car. Guglielmi said that although IPRA is handling the investigation of the officers involved in the shooting, “We are also looking at what policies may have been violated” and use the findings for training of officers.