The officer didn’t turn on his body camera until after the shooting, mayor said Wednesday.
By Mark Guarino
Oct. 29, 2020 at 4:39 p.m. CDT
The city of Waukegan, Ill., released videos late Wednesday from a police officer’s fatal shooting of a Black teenager, as the mayor revealed that the officer had been fired in part for failing to activate his body camera before the shooting.
The officer, who has not been identified, turned on his body camera after he fired shots into the vehicle holding 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and his girlfriend, Tafara Williams, 20, Mayor Sam Cunningham said in a statement Wednesday. Williams, who was driving the vehicle, was seriously injured in the shooting.
In body-camera footage after the gunfire, the officer is heard saying, “I was right behind you. You almost tried to run me over!” Civil rights attorney Antonio Romanucci, who is representing the victims, said the officer “knew what he was doing” in activating his camera after the shooting.
“His first words when he turned on his body cameras after the shooting were to create a false narrative for what had transpired to justify the shooting of innocent people,” Romanucci said in a statement. “The lack of transparency here is shameful.”
Williams told reporters Tuesday that she and Stinnette were outside their home on Oct. 20 having a cigarette in their parked car when a police cruiser pulled up. One body-camera video shows an officer approaching the vehicle and asking Stinnette his name. When he replies with a different name, the officer says, “I thought you were one of Stinnette kids, right?” After Stinnette confirms his first name, the officer tells him he is under arrest.
“I ain’t playing with you, because I know you,” the officer said, telling the couple that Stinnette “has a warrant.” Seconds later, the car quickly flees down the road as the officer said, “They just ran me over!” and communicates the vehicle’s location to other officers via radio.
Williams previously told reporters that she “drove away slowly because” she was “scared to get out of the car.”
Other footage shows the chase between police and Williams, her vehicle eventually jumping a curb and coming to a stop. Dashboard-camera video then shows the cruiser driven by the officer who was fired pulling up alongside Williams’s vehicle. The officer’s actions are off camera, but Williams’s car can be seen moving in reverse until it’s out of the frame as the officer yells at them to get out of the car. Shots ring out immediately afterward.
Romanucci told reporters Wednesday that it appears the officer shot into the car from the side and not from behind. Waukegan police have not responded to requests for comment.
Soon after the officer turned on his body camera, a distressed woman’s voice can be heard screaming, “Why did he shoot us? Why did he shoot us?”
The family of Williams, who is hospitalized, watched the six videos before their public release. The footage was provided by the Waukegan Police Department to the Illinois State Police, the agency that is partnering with the FBI to conduct an investigation into the shooting.
Attorneys for the victims and their families suggested there could be additional footage that the police department is withholding that could have a clearer visual of the shooting. Attorney Ben Crump said the released video “presents an incredible obstacle to learning the truth.”
“Body cams act as an essential bridge between law enforcement and the public they are sworn to protect while helping ensure transparency and accountability, and building the trust that is still so painfully lacking,” he added.
On Friday, Cunningham fired the officer, whom authorities say is a Hispanic five-year veteran of the department. Cunningham released a statement late Wednesday saying the officer’s body camera was “not activated to properly archive the time of the shooting,” which is a breach of department policies “and one of the reasons for the officer’s termination.”
The mayor said he is committed to working with investigators “to provide all details in a swift and impartial manner.”
Attorneys for Williams filed a lawsuit late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago against the city of Waukegan and Dante Salinas and James Keating, the two officers they say were involved in the shooting incident. The complaint says Keating, who approached their vehicle first, “did not have reasonable suspicion or probably cause” to detain Williams as she and Stinnette sat in a car outside their home.
The lawsuit also alleges that Salinas was not “in the path of the vehicle” when he shot into the vehicle and that officers did not provide medical assistance when Williams left her car and was bleeding from her stomach.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for attorneys’ fees and medical bills and other damages related to “future pain and suffering, disability, disfigurement, and loss of a normal life.” It blames the city for “providing inadequate training,” failure to ‘adequately discipline’ all city police officers for “abusing authority, making false arrests, and/or for using excessive force on suspects and other citizens.”
Emails to both the city of Waukegan and the police department were not returned.
According to the Associated Press, a man sued Waukegan and Salinas two months ago for an August 2019 incident in which Salinas struck him with his pistol outside a house hosting a child’s baptism party. Angel Salgado said Salinas caused several bone fractures and lacerations to his face.