A police officer who fatally shot a Black man in a Chicago suburb this week has been fired, authorities said Friday.
The officer had fired into a vehicle that authorities say was reversing as he approached on late Tuesday in Waukegan, killing the passenger and leaving the driver, a Black woman, hospitalized, police said.
“The City of Waukegan terminated the officer that discharged his firearm during that incident, for multiple policy and procedure violations,” Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles said Friday in a news release, without detailing those violations or naming the officer.
Tensions between the community and police have been high since the shooting. The death of another Black person at the hands of police was the latest to prompt outrage following months of protests over racial injustice and police brutality, most recently ignited by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
Before Friday’s firing was announced, the Waukegan case was turned over to the Illinois State Police, which will conduct an independent investigation. The investigation — including police bodycam and squad car footage — will then be reviewed by Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, whose office will determine whether to pursue criminal charges.
“I am certainly aware these situations are potentially volatile and elicit many emotions,” Nerheim said in a statement. “I strongly urge and hope for continued calm and patience as the investigation takes place.”
In a video obtained by CNN affiliate WLS, the driver, Tafara Williams, spoke out from her hospital bed, asking of the police, “Why did you shoot?”
“I didn’t do nothing wrong,” Williams says in the video. “I have a license. You didn’t tell me I was under arrest. Why did you just flame up my car like that? Why did you shoot?”
The passenger who was killed was Marcellis Stinnette, 19, according to the Lake County Coroner’s Office. A family member said Williams was his girlfriend.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said they represent Williams and will conduct their own investigation.
“We do not trust the police narrative in this case,” Crump said. “We have seen over and over that the ‘official’ report when police kill Black people is far too often missing or misrepresenting detail.”
Officer ‘in fear for his safety,’ police said
According to Waukegan police, an officer was investigating a suspicious vehicle occupied by two people late Tuesday, shortly before midnight, when the vehicle “fled” from the officer.
A second officer found the vehicle a short time later, about a half mile away. The officer exited his patrol car and began to approach the vehicle, which started to reverse toward him, the police said. The officer, “in fear for his safety,” then opened fire, police said in an account released before Friday’s firing was announced.
Both the driver and her passenger suffered gunshot wounds. The passenger was taken to the hospital, where he died, police said. According to the Coroner’s Office, an autopsy showed Stinnette died of injuries from a gunshot.
The driver, who is in her 20s, is expected to recover, police said.
“We are seeking that someone be held accountable because this looks like murder,” Satrese Stallworth, who said she was a relative of Stinnette’s and spoke for Stinnette’s mother, said Thursday as protesters gathered in Waukegan to call for justice.
The Stinnette family has unanswered questions, Stallworth said, and demonstrators called on the police to release the footage of the shooting, saying they did not believe the narrative provided by the authorities.
“The police cannot police the police,” Stallworth said, “they cannot investigate and they cannot give us fair justice.”
Nerheim pledged to release all investigative details if his office does not charge anyone in the case.
“When I have reviewed the entire case and made my finding, I will release the entire file, everything,” he said. “All the reports, all the videos, everything.”
When pressed by reporters about his response to a community upset about another unarmed Black man being killed by law enforcement, Waukegan Police Commander Edgar Navarro said in a news conference Wednesday, “There was no weapon that was recovered, but the vehicle was reversing towards the officer.”
Navarro expressed sympathy for the families, saying the department was also “upset.”
“It’s something our community, our police department has great concern over,” he said. “And it’s difficult for all of us.”
Police have not identified the officer who opened fire, but said he is Hispanic and was on the force for five years. He was placed on administrative leave before Friday’s firing was announced.
The other officer, who initially approached the vehicle, was placed on administrative leave, Navarro said. That officer, who is White, also has been on the force for five years.
Navarro did not address the Waukegan Police Department’s policy on firing at moving vehicles.
The mayor of Waukegan, Sam Cunningham, told reporters at the news conference that he knows the victims’ families, saying he grew up with them.
“I’m a Black man who grew up in that same neighborhood,” the mayor said. “It could have been me.”
The mayor said he was nervous about unrest in the community, following months of protests in other cities following the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. He urged anyone who has information or footage of the shooting to share it with authorities.
“And I hope this doesn’t cause us to be at a point where you distrust the city or the police or each other,” Cunningham said.
‘Black lives do matter’
Protesters gathered on Thursday to condemn the shooting and called for the Justice Department to take over the investigation.
Williams’ mother, Clifftina Johnson, said she spoke to her daughter after she underwent surgery for her injuries, and told Williams she must speak for other Black victims of police brutality who cannot speak for themselves.
“Black lives do matter, and you live,” Johnson said. “You have to stand and speak for the ones that are already gone.”
Waukegan, Illinois, about 45 miles north of Chicago, sits just south of the border with Wisconsin. On the other side, about a 30 minute drive from Waukegan, is Kenosha, Wisconsin, which played host to a high-profile police shooting late this summer, when an officer there shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times.
Blake survived and was released from a Milwaukee hospital earlier this month. That shooting is under investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation.
Blake’s sister, Letetra Wideman, joined demonstrators in Waukegan Thursday, saying her family stood in solidarity with the families of Williams and Stinnette.
“Every time you see Jacob Blake, you’re going to see the Stinnette family and any other families that fall victim to police brutality,” Wideman said.
Stallworth said her family hoped this would not happen to any other young Black men.
“The police are supposed to serve and protect,” she said. “How are you taking our babies?”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the first name of Tafara Williams.