Saturday, December 26, 2015

Chicago Police Fatally Shoot 2, Raising New Questions for a Force Under Scrutiny
DEC. 26, 2015
New York Times

Photo: Evelyn Glover-Jennings holds a picture of her cousin Bettie Jones, 55, who was shot by the Chicago police on Saturday. Credit Joshua Lott for The New York Times

CHICAGO — Police fatally shot a man and a woman on this city’s West Side early Saturday, setting off a new flurry of questions about a department already under intense scrutiny.

A one-paragraph news release from the department said officers were answering a call about a domestic disturbance in the 4700 block of West Erie Street at 4:25 a.m. on Saturday when they were “confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer’s weapon.”

The authorities provided few other details, but family members of those killed said that the shooting raised concerns about how the city’s officers are trained to handle those struggling with mental health issues and the use of weapons when people uninvolved in a confrontation may be nearby.

The police arrived at a small beige residence in a neighborhood about six miles west of downtown after a relative reported that Quintonio LeGrier, 19, was behaving oddly and carrying a metal baseball bat around the second-floor apartment where his father lived. Mr. LeGrier, whose mother told reporters he was a college student who had been experiencing mental health issues, was fatally shot.

Bettie Jones, who was 55 and a first-floor tenant, was also fatally shot, apparently as she tried to answer a shared front door for the arriving police officers. She may have been standing near Mr. LeGrier as shots were fired, her brother, Melvin Jones, said.

“None of this needed to happen,” Mr. Jones said as relatives gathered hours later in the house to mourn and pray. “And they say there will be an investigation into the shooting? I already know how that will turn out. We all know how that will turn out. When is this going to end?”

The practices of the Chicago Police Department, the nation’s second-largest after New York City’s, is the subject of a Justice Department review following the release last month of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old, in 2014. The video, which the city fought to keep private for months, has set off weeks of protests over race and policing here, and it prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to remove the heads of the force and an Independent Police Review Authority that investigates police shootings.

The authority, which has found claims of wrongdoing against officers to be valid in only two police shootings out of more than 400 since 2007, is reviewing the latest case, the Chicago police said. A spokesman for the police directed further inquiries to the authority.

A spokesman for the authority said that an investigation was in progress, but that it would be premature to provide any additional details, including the number of shots fired or the names of officers involved.

Ms. Jones and Mr. LeGrier (whose name some authorities said may have been capitalized differently, as Legrier) were both black. The police department did not release the identities or reveal the race of the officers involved in Saturday’s shooting.

Over a five-year period ending in 2014, officers here shot and killed 70 people, most of them black. That was the most among the nation’s 10 largest cities during the same period, according to the Better Government Association, a nonprofit watchdog organization.

Family members of Mr. LeGrier and Ms. Jones said their deaths raised questions about police handling of mental illness and their de-escalation training. Some of them wondered aloud why a stun gun or backup help from other officers might not have been enough to manage an apparently volatile man with a baseball bat.

“It’s like you call for help and you lose someone,” Janet Cooksey, the mother of Mr. LeGrier, told WGN television. “And that has to stop.”

Ms. Jones’s boyfriend, who asked not to be identified by name, said he had been present when the shooting occurred, and that Ms. Jones had gotten up from bed to open a front door that is common to the first and second floors for arriving police officers. He said Mr. LeGrier’s father, who is also the landlord for the building, had telephoned Ms. Jones from the second floor to alert her that the police were on their way and needed to be let in. He said that when the officers arrived, Mr. LeGrier seemed to have rushed to the bottom of the stairs with his bat at nearly the same time Ms. Jones was opening the door.

“Then the shooting just started coming — bam, bam, bam!” he said. What appeared to be the work of one bullet had left a hole in the wall of a first-floor foyer wall, a bedroom and a bathroom, traveling all the way to Ms. Jones’s kitchen, where she had celebrated Christmas with some of her five grown children hours earlier.

“If you came here to her house, she took care of you, whoever you were,” Melvin Jones said of his sister, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and worked at a baking company. He said it did not surprise him that Ms. Jones had agreed to open the door for the police when her upstairs neighbor called for help, even at that early hour and despite the tense situation playing out upstairs.

“She was everybody’s mama,” he said. “I’m not mad, but I’m hurt.”

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