Chicago police shooting: Is deadly force used too readily?

Chicago police fatally shot a young man armed with a baseball bat and accidentally killed his neighbor early Saturday, intensifying the crisis over Mayor Rahm Emanuel's leadership in the wake of police shootings. 

Ashlee Rezin/ Chicago Sun-Times via AP
Latonya Jones, 19, holds a photo of her mother, Bettie Jones, during a vigil on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. Jones was killed accidentally on Saturday by police responding to a domestic disturbance call on Chicago's West Side. Quintonio LeGrier, 19, was also fatally shot by police.

As mourners in Chicago gathered Sunday to remember neighbors Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and Bettie Jones, 55, who were fatally shot Saturday morning by police responding to a domestic disturbance call, their focus turned toward City Hall.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has faced near-daily protests this month from Black Lives Matter supporters and other activists calling for him to reform the city's police department or leave office, after the city released videos of the fatal shootings of Laquan McDonald, 17, and Ronald Johnson, 25, both of whom were shot in 2014.

Attendees at the vigil for Ms. Jones remembered her as a mother of five and a bakery employee who participated in neighborhood organization Action Now, and had just hosted Christmas dinner. She and her fiancé shared an apartment beneath the LeGriers', but had planned to move because they feared it was unsafe, her cousin told the Washington Post. 

Police officials said in a statement that Jones "was accidentally struck and tragically killed," when officers confronted Mr. LeGrier, whose erratic behavior early Saturday morning prompted his father to call the police. 

LeGrier, an engineering student at Northern Illinois University, was home for the holidays. Antonio LeGrier, Quintonio's father, said that his son seemed "agitated" after the rest of the family returned from a holiday celebration. Shortly after 4 a.m., he heard his son trying to break into the elder Mr. LeGrier's locked bedroom, prompting him to call the police.

LeGrier called Jones to ask her to open the door for police, and she reported that the younger Mr. LeGrier was outside with an aluminum baseball bat. 

Chicago police said in a Saturday statement that they "were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer's weapon."

LeGrier and Jones, both of whom were black, were declared dead at the hospital; both were found shot near the doorway. Family members said LeGrier was shot seven times.

Attorney Sam Adam Jr., who is representing the Jones family, told the Chicago Tribune that officers' shell casings were found 20 feet from the front door

The officer who shot the two, who has not been publicly named, will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days as the city's Independent Police Review Authority investigates the incident. 

"We're thinking the police are going to service us, take him to the hospital. They took his life," LeGrier's mother, Janet Cooksey, told the Associated Press, saying that she wants a personal apology from the mayor. Ms. Cooksey was photographed over the weekend in a sweatshirt reading "Rahm Failed Us."

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2015, Chicago police shot 24 people. Since the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) was established in 2007 in an attempt to increase officer accountability, more than 500 people have been shot by police, including around 130 fatal shootings. Only two shootings were found to have been unjustified.

The US Justice Department has announced an investigation into officers' use of force, particularly against minorities. More than 300 of those shot were black, and at least 58 were Hispanic.

Mr. McDonald's death particularly roiled Chicago after video of the October 2014 shooting was released in November 2015. McDonald, who was carrying a knife, was shot 16 times, including after he fell to the ground.

In April, the city said it would pay $5 million to McDonald's family. Last month, Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, and former Chicago Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy stepped down. But many allege that the mayor, who says he had not seen the video before it was released, intentionally waited to release the footage until he won a contentious reelection campaign. 

On Saturday, Mr. Emanuel issued a statement saying "the public deserves answers," and promising an IPRA investigation. He had been with family on a planned vacation in Cuba, and spoke with the Jones family by phone, but announced Monday that he would cut the trip short

The mayor said he had asked IPRA to review police training for interacting with mentally ill people, in response to claims that emotional problems or mental illness may have contributed to LeGrier's behavior that led to his father's police call. However, some family members contested those accounts. 

"We are under siege and we need help and leadership we can trust," Pastor Ira Acree told mourners at the Sunday vigil, where he was joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. 

Emanuel has resisted calls for his resignation, despite ongoing protests. 

Some experts have recommended that the IPRA focus on the department's underlying organization, rather than individual officers, shootings, or leaders. 

"Deadly force should have been used as a last resort and not a first resort," retired police sergeant Cheryl Dorsey told CNN, asking why Tasers had not been used to subdue LeGrier. 

The same question was posed by Alderman Jason C. Ervin, of Chicago's 28th Ward. 

"Police officers have batons, police officers have Tasers, police officers have [pepper] spray," Mr. Ervin told the Chicago Tribune. "But I don't know how a bat instantly equals a bullet."

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