A Cook County jury is deliberating whether the 2013 shooting of a South Side teenager was justified.
Seventeen-year-old Christian Green was shot in the back in broad daylight by officer Robert Gonzalez on July 4, 2013, after Gonzalez said Green pointed a handgun at him and his partner. Green’s family notes the gun was found 75 feet from his body, and contend he was running from the officers when he was shot.
“The truth is not always easy to hear,” Green family attorney Victor Henderson cautioned the jury during closing arguments Friday morning. “Officer Gonzalez is sitting here telling you guys a bunch of lies."
Speaking publicly about the case for the first time a week ago, Gonzalez testified Friday that he found himself in a quickly unfolding situation, where all he could see was the barrel of a gun.
“It was a high stress situation,” Gonzalez said on the witness stand in a Daley Center courtroom. “I had a gun pointed at me. I tried to be as accurate as I could.”
The case also featured the testimony of Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who was the street deputy on duty the day of the shooting.
Previous testimony from other officers at the scene alleged that Green fled officers, leading them on a 3 block foot chase which ended with his shooting. Officers Douglas Nichols and George Hernandez said they both saw the teenager turn and point the gun back at officers as he ran. Gonzalez said events were unfolding so quickly that he fired without even getting out of his unmarked squad car.
“All I saw was the opening of the barrel pointed at me,” he said. “I fired very quickly, and then I saw him struck, and then I stopped.”
But Henderson noted seeming inconsistencies in the police narrative, which first stated that Green had been shot in the chest after he turned and pointed the gun at officers. It was not until the official autopsy report that it was revealed he suffered a gunshot wound to the back.
“They don’t want you to believe what you see,” Henderson said. “They want you to believe what they tell you.”
But City attorney Victoria Benson argued that Gonzalez had no choices that day.
“Why would officer Gonzalez decide to kill Christian Green for no reason?” she asked. “He wouldn’t."
Benson methodically took jurors through every step of the police narrative, up to the allegation that Green turned and pointed his gun as he ran.
“There is no doubt that officer Gonzalez was in fear of death or great bodily harm,” she said. “The only reason he shot Christian Green, is because Christian Green pointed a gun at him."
While the case featured dramatic surveillance video shot from many angles of Green running down the street, at one point trying to dispose of his weapon a block from where the incident eventually took place, none of the cameras showed the actual shooting.
That means jurors are left with no tangible evidence, and a large decision over whether the officers were believable. In his last summation to the jury, Henderson fired away at that theme.
“Those officers knew they shot that young man in the back and they tried to cover it up,” he said. “They’re there to protect us, but they’re not supposed to be protecting each other."