In April 2012, Chicago Police responded to a burglary in progress at Mike’s Electronics store in the Little Village neighborhood on the west side.
Three men were stealing stereos at 2:30 in the morning. Within 15 minutes of the police arriving, one person was shot dead and two others were seriously wounded as the men tried to escape in a stolen van. Security cameras and police dash cameras captured much of the shooting.
At a time when police forces and communities are grappling with questions of excessive police force, a lawsuit filed by attorney Terry Hegarty against the Chicago Police on the behalf of the suspects, sheds light on this complicated issue. The primary evidence in the case is the video which captures almost every angle of the scene as it unfolds.
The video starts as the men are seen inside the electronics store grabbing equipment. Police officers are also seen arriving on the scene. They are attempting to get into the building and in court records say they yelled for the men to surrender. The video then shows the men getting in a stolen van parked inside the store.
More officers arrive on the scene. Another van is parked on the street blocking the exit path of the stolen van. As the van plows through the garage door in reverse, court records say police feared for their lives and opened fire.
The lawsuit cites Chicago’s deadly force policy which states ‘when the vehicle is the only force used…sworn members will move out of the vehicle’s path.”
“The van cannot be a justification for deadly force,” Hegarty said.
One officer who is standing in the path of the vehicle says he was hit by the van, injured by flying debris and treated at a hospital.
Hegarty argues the tape shows the officer running down the sidewalk apparently unhurt and officers reloading and approaching the van. He also accuses them of continuing to fire after the vehicle crashed.
“A police officer walked up to the side of the van and shot him 6 times,” Hegarty claims.
In court papers, police denied that all allegations of excessive force but they declined our request for an interview citing the pending lawsuit.
We showed the video to Jim Glennon of Calibre Press, a police training company.
“Getting hit by a 4500 pound vehicle at 30 mph is definitely deadly force. All this guy needs to do when he comes out if spin the wheel and that vehicle can strike half a dozen police officers, “Glennon said.
Police also did not know at the time, the three men in the van had long rap sheets. Between them, there were 36 arrests and 11 convictions. One of the men was on parole for robbery with a firearm.
Hegarty maintains that police had an obligation not to shoot saying, “The police have absolutely no right to shoot people accused of non-violent crimes.”
The Chicago Fraternal order of police released a statement saying:
“It is important to remember the three offenders involved in this story were caught by the police inside the building they were burglarizing. The offenders were given ample opportunities by the police to peacefully surrender. The offenders made the conscious choice to resist arrest and use a van parked inside the building to make good their escape. This van became a deadly weapon as the offenders crashed through the overhead door and tried to run over several uniformed police officers, resulting in the officers use of deadly force to protect themselves from serious injury or death.”
The two surviving suspects are in jail awaiting trial in the criminal case. Their lawsuit is pending until the criminal case is resolved.