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Waukegan police officer turned on body cam after fatal shooting, city releases videos

Waukegan police officer turned on body cam after fatal shooting, city releases videos

CHICAGO – The former Waukegan police officer who fatally shot a Black teen and wounded a Black woman last week turned on his body camera after the shooting, according to videos released by the northern Illinois city Wednesday afternoon.

Marcellis Stinnette, 19, was killed, and Tafara Williams, 20, was wounded on Oct. 20 when the car they were in allegedly reversed toward an officer, who fired into the car, according to police.

The officer, who was identified only as a Hispanic five-year member of the department, was terminated Friday night “for multiple policy and procedure violations,” Department Commander Edgar Navarro said.

Family members and attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci viewed videos of the incident at the Illinois State Police office in Des Plaines early Wednesday, and the city later released two building surveillance videos, two body cam videos and two dash cam videos. The videos do not capture the shooting but show the car reversing into a building.

“The body-worn camera of the officer involved was not activated to properly archive the time of the shooting. This was a breach of Waukegan Police Department policies, and one of the reasons for the officer’s termination,” Mayor Sam Cunningham said in a statement Wednesday.

Woman wounded in fatal Illinois police shooting: ‘Our 7-month-old son will never know his father’

The site of a prayer vigil held for Tafara Williams is seen on October 27, 2020 in Waukegan, Illinois. Williams was shot and wounded during a police shooting that killed 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette.

Once the officer turns on the body camera, he appears to be standing several yards away from the crashed car. About 30 seconds in, he says “I was right behind you, and you almost tried to run me over.” Another officer can be seen running toward the car and its passengers, yelling, “Are you okay? What happened? Who shot you?” as Williams can be heard screaming for help.

A few seconds later, the officer who ran toward the car backs away and asks to several officers gathered at and arriving to scene, “Who shot them?”

The officer who is wearing the body camera says, “I did,” and the other officer responds, “You did?”

Lawyers for the family suggested in a press conference Wednesday it was suspicious that the officer turned the camera on after the shooting.

“What’s disturbing is that once that body camera went on, that false narrative came out,” Romanucci said. “This officer had his ‘oh crap’ moment after the shooting and pushed the button. ‘You tried to run me over,’ those were his first words.'”

The lawyers said the videos gave “no indication at all” that Williams and Stinnette were involved in any sort of crime and called their behavior “innocuous.” The videos showed no evidence that Williams tried to run the officer over, Crump said.

“It just is inexplicable why this officer shot and, why immediately after he shoots, turns on his body camera afterwards and says, ‘You tried to run me over,’ almost as if he knew he messed up,” Crump said.

Attorney Antonio Romanucci, right, speaks as attorney Ben Crump listens during a press conference , Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Des Plaines, Ill.
Attorney Antonio Romanucci, right, speaks as attorney Ben Crump listens during a press conference , Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Des Plaines, Ill.

The Waukegan Police Department and Williams, who spoke publicly for the first time Tuesday via Zoom at a press conference from her hospital bed, have offered two different pictures of what happened that night.

Last week, Department Commander Edgar Navarro said the incident happened just before midnight, when an officer approached a “suspicious” vehicle. As the officer was conducting his investigation, the vehicle fled and was spotted moments later by another officer, who got out of his car to approach the vehicle, Navarro said.

“That officer exited his vehicle, and the vehicle that he was investigating began to reverse towards the officer. The officer then pulled out his duty weapon and fired into the vehicle,” Navarro said.

The initial police report said the officer was “in fear for his safety.” He struck both Stinnette and Williams. They both were taken to the hospital, where Stinnette died. No firearms were found in the vehicle, Navarro said.

Navarro did not elaborate on why the vehicle was stopped in the first place, but body cam video reveals that the initial officer approaches the car to ask the passengers, “Are you the two that got in an accident?” The officer appears to know Stinnette and Williams by name and tells Stinnette he’s under arrest. When Williams asks why, the officer says “because I said so” and “he’s got a warrant.” The car then appears to speed away. 

Waukegan police did not immediately say if there had been a warrant for Stinnette’s arrest. The Lake County Sheriff’s Office lists an active warrant for someone with the same last name. 

Williams, the mother of two, said it all started after she had put her children to bed and went outside the house to sit in the driver’s seat of her car to smoke, with Stinnette in the passenger seat. That’s when an officer approached the car, called the two by name, and harassed Stinnette, Williams said.

n this image taken from a video screen, Tafara Williams speaks to reporters from her hospital bed during a Zoom meeting Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in Libertyville, Ill.
n this image taken from a video screen, Tafara Williams speaks to reporters from her hospital bed during a Zoom meeting Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in Libertyville, Ill.

Williams said she drove away slowly, and the officer did not follow, she said. When she turned a corner, Williams said she saw another officer.

“There was a crash and I lost control. The officer was shooting at us. The car ended up slamming into a building. I kept screaming ‘I don’t have a gun,’ but he kept shooting,” Williams said. “He told me to get out of the car. I had my hands up and I couldn’t move because I had been shot. Marcellis had his hands up. I kept asking him why he was shooting.”

Williams said her blood was “gushing” out of her body, but that the officers wouldn’t give them an ambulance until they got out of the car.

“I could hear Marcellis still breathing. I told them ‘please don’t shoot I have a baby, we have a baby, we don’t want to die.'”

Marcellis Stinnette's mother Zharvellis Holmes, left, and Marcellis's grandmother Sherrellis Stinnette attend a press conference, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Des Plaines, Ill.
Marcellis Stinnette’s mother Zharvellis Holmes, left, and Marcellis’s grandmother Sherrellis Stinnette attend a press conference, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Des Plaines, Ill.

Williams said an officer dragged her away from Stinnette and laid him on the ground and covered him with a blanket “while he was still breathing.” Williams said she asked the officers to take Stinnette in the ambulance first, but they didn’t.

“My heart is completely broken, not only because I watched someone I love get shot, be in complete pain and die, but also because our 7-month-old son will never know his father,” Williams said in a separate statement Tuesday.

Stinnette died of injuries from a gunshot wound, according to a preliminary autopsy report released last week.

Illinois State Police’s Public Integrity Task Force was investigating the incident, and the Waukegan Police Department had turned over all reports, body cam and dashcam videos, Navarro said.

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim said last week he would review the state police investigation and make the “entire case file” available to the public once complete.

Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton (C), attends a prayer vigil held for Tafara Williamson October 27, 2020 in Waukegan, Illinois.
Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton (C), attends a prayer vigil held for Tafara Williamson October 27, 2020 in Waukegan, Illinois.

Family members and activists in Waukegan have held several marches and vigils in the past week, calling for justice for Stinnette and Williams. Tuesday night, the Rev. Al Sharpton joined Crump for a press conference.

Crump and Romanucci also represent the families of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, Byron Williams and others.

“Tafara is my child. My only baby,” Tina Johnson said through tears Tuesday. “I’m asking you to pray for her, and my grandson Marcellis Stinnette, Jr.”

With a population of more than 86,000, Waukegan is majority Hispanic or Latino and about a quarter non-Hispanic white and a quarter Black, according to the Census Bureau.

The city is about 15 miles south of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back multiple times as he was getting into a car, triggering unrest in the city and sparking protests around the nation. 

Demonstrators protest the October 20, police shooting that led to the death of 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and left his girlfriend, 20-year-old Tafara Williams, with serious injuries on October 22, 2020 in Waukegan, Illinois.
Demonstrators protest the October 20, police shooting that led to the death of 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and left his girlfriend, 20-year-old Tafara Williams, with serious injuries on October 22, 2020 in Waukegan, Illinois.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Waukegan shooting: Officer turned on body cam after fatal shooting

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Erin Clark

Erin is a sports enthusiast who loves indulging in occasional football matches. She is a passionate journalist who flaunts a perfect hold over the English language. She currently caters her skills for the sports and health section of Report Door.

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