Chicago police release video to ease tensions after killing Harith Augustus

By Alex Horton and Mark Guarino

July 15, 2018 

Protests erupted in Chicago after an officer fatally shot an armed black man Saturday evening, prompting police to release body camera video of the killing to ease simmering tensions.

The Chicago Police Department said an officer fired at 37-year-old Harith Augustus at about 5:31 p.m. when Augustus reached for his weapon. Police say the incident began while they were on patrol and saw Augustus. They suspected he was carrying a gun underneath his shirt.

“When they approached him, he tried to push their hands away,” Patrol Chief Fred Waller told reporters. “He started flailing and swinging away, trying to make his escape. And as he was making his escape, reached for his weapon.”

Body camera footage released Sunday appeared to corroborate that initial version of events. At least four officers are shown approaching Augustus. A female officer reaches for his arm, starting a brief struggle.

Augustus is shoved with his back to a police vehicle. A freeze frame shows a holstered pistol and what appears to be an ammunition magazine. He gets away and flees to the street, where he appears to reach for the weapon. An officer shoots him an unknown number of times.

Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said he released the footage with rare speed to dispel rumors that Augustus was unarmed and to defuse public outrage in Chicago, where the shooting has prompted protests and confrontations with police.

“I have an obligation to this city, to the community, and to these police officers, to make sure this city is safe and calm,” Johnson said in a news conference. “We can’t have another night like that.”

It is not clear from the video whether Augustus drew his pistol before he was shot, but he does not appear to extend his arm toward the officers. The officer who shot Augustus appears to be white, as do two other officers. The fourth officer appears to be black.

The body cameras have a 30-second delay before audio starts, Johnson said, and the video released does not have any sound.

The killing sparked waves of protests throughout the city, with demonstrators shouting “murderer” and “no justice, no peace” through the night, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

In the Grand Crossing neighborhood of the predominantly black South Side, protesters clashed with officers carrying batons, leading to four arrests, the Associated Press reported. People hurled rocks and bottles at officers, with some suffering minor injuries.

Videos posted to social media captured the public outrage over the shooting. Nader Issa, a reporter at the Sun-Times, recorded videos showing people at the scene of the shooting hemmed in along a fence and shouting at police on the other side.

In another video, a man tumbles to the ground as officers swing batons at the crowd. Issa reported that an officer shoved him to the ground and knocked his phone from his hand.

Here’s the rest of the escalation, including multiple Chicago Police officers on top of one man, hitting him, and then dragging another man. This is also the start of where I get shoved to the ground. That video is coming next.

— Nader Issa (@NaderDIssa) July 15, 2018

Early Sunday evening, about 50 people started marching from the spot where the shooting occurred. Behind the marchers was a heavy police presence.

Tina, a bystander who didn’t want to give her last name because she lives in the neighborhood, said she was “not surprised at all” when she heard the news of the shooting. “This is a bad neighborhood, okay. The police sit on 71st Street all day long and I always felt it was to protect us. But what happened yesterday, I don’t think it was to protect us.”

Eddie Williams, a construction worker who lives around the corner from the shooting, and who has three brothers who work for the Chicago Police Department, said he is dismayed at the black-on-black crime. “Can’t worry about the Chicago Police when it’s your own race shooting each other.”

The bystander said he has seen the video, but is waiting to make judgment on it. “I want to get the full story. He had a pistol but I didn’t see him pull it. I’ll wait until everything comes out.”

Augustus was a barber who went by the nickname “Snoop,” said Gloria Rainge, according to the Sun-Times. She told the paper that she saw the confrontation and said that an officer told Augustus not to sell loose cigarettes.

She said Augustus explained that he wasn’t, the situation escalated, and he was shot as he was running away. Johnson, the police superintendent, said Sunday that he could not corroborate information about Augustus potentially selling cigarettes.

Rainge told the Sun-Times that Augustus was “cool, laid-back, very intelligent.”

Johnson offered few details during the news conference, citing an ongoing investigation by Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, but did say that Augustus did not appear to have a state-issued concealed firearm license.

Johnson may face more questions about Augustus’s firearm licensing.

The body camera video shows Augustus reaching for his wallet as the officers approach. In the struggle, a card protrudes from his wallet. It appears to be a Firearm Owners Identification Card, which allows qualified people to buy weapons and ammunition, according to the Illinois State Police.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability, a city agency that’s independent of the police department, did not return an immediate request for comment asking if they believe Augustus was attempting to show the card to police before the struggle, or if he was mistaken that the card allowed him to conceal carry.

The police said in a statement that the officer who killed Augustus will be placed on 30 days of administrative duty, a routine decision after an officer-involved shooting.

Protests were planned for Sunday in South Shore, the Chicago Tribune reported, about 24 hours after Augustus was killed.

Chicago is still reckoning with the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager killed in 2014.  Police initially said he lunged at an officer with a knife when he was shot, but videos contradicted those claims.

Protests rocked the city after the videos were released.

Three current or former officers were charged in June 2017 with conspiracy to cover up the shooting, and the city promised reforms in the wake of the killing.

Guarino reported from Chicago.



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