Chicago Police

Left for Dead: NBC 5 Sues for Records on Hit-and-Run That Killed 11-Year-Old

Ja'lon James' family says it's been months since Chicago police have updated them on the investigation into his death

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Ten months after the hit-and-run crash that killed 11-year-old Ja’lon James, his family says Chicago police have not given them any updates on the investigation into his death – and NBC 5 Investigates is now suing to obtain public records on the case.

In June, Ja’lon was walking to the store with his older sibling when he was hit and killed by a car headed east on West 16th Street near South Christiana Avenue in the city’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Authorities said the car dragged him for half a block and the driver stopped briefly before taking off.

Ja’lon’s grandmother Nicole Harrison said Chicago police told her family right away that they had plenty of evidence.

“Fingerprints, the car and warrants. That’s exactly what the detective told me,” Harrison said.

But since that day, no arrests – and no updates from police.

“Why we haven’t got any answers? I don’t care how little it is. Anything would help,” Harrison said.

In September, his family protested outside the Chicago police station near the crash site. Months later, Harrison said she still hasn’t heard from CPD, and the last time she called, she was on hold for over an hour, unable to get through to anyone.

NBC 5 Investigates filed multiple public records requests to try and uncover exactly what steps Chicago police have taken to solve this crime. One request to Chicago police asked for all reports, photos and videos, and another request to CPD was for the lead investigators' emails pertaining to the crash. From Illinois State Police, the request was for any DNA reports the state laboratory generated in connection with the crash.

All of those requests were denied, with the agencies citing the ongoing investigation.

“Show us that it’s an ongoing investigation,” Harrison said, upon learning the reason given for the denials. “Right now, that’s not what they’re doing. There’s absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.”

“It doesn’t feel like it’s an ongoing investigation,” she added. “Because I feel if it was an ongoing investigation – it will be a year June 16, 2023, and we should have heard something by now. Even if they don’t call every day. Every other day. Every week, every two weeks, if it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Following those denials, NBC 5 filed three lawsuits – one for each request – against the two agencies for violating the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

The two lawsuits against CPD note NBC 5 Investigates’ finding that out of more than 37,000 hit-and-runs in 2021, the agency made just 95 arrests and “does not seem to be actively investigating a significant number of these cases.”

All three lawsuits were filed in Cook County, asking the court to order the agencies to turn over the records, which could shed light on what CPD has done to try and solve Ja’lon’s case.

When reached for comment, ISP said the agency is unable to discuss pending litigation. A CPD spokesman did not respond to request for comment on Ja’lon’s case, the lawsuits, or any questions on the way Harrison said her family has been treated.

“I don't understand why you have to go through all that,” Harrison said, when asked how it feels to see legal action being taken for her family to possibly learn any updates. “That’s – to me, that’s pretty pathetic.”

“And maybe, hopefully you'll come out, they give you all the updates so that you know what's going on, because they’re definitely not reaching out to the family,” she added.

Friday marked exactly three months since 11-year-old Ja’lon James was killed in a hit-and-run crash that remains unsolved. His family is calling for justice, saying Chicago police have plenty of evidence and it shouldn’t take this long to see an arrest. NBC 5’s Alex Maragos reports.

Just last week, Ja’lon’s twin Ja’len turned 12 years old, his first-ever birthday without his brother.

Harrison still visits the site of the crash every day. She said her family believes they know who the suspect is – and that an arrest would bring them some peace.

“It would ease the pain a little bit. You know, it's not going to bring Ja’lon back,” she said “But I'd rather for him to be arrested and in jail where we can go to court and see him and let him know how we feel that he took a child. You took a grandson, you took a son from a loving mother and his siblings.”

Until that day comes, Harrison said even a phone call from police would help them in their grief.

“We shouldn't have to reach out to them,” Harrison. “They should reach out to us because the detective has our numbers. He has everybody’s numbers, so I just feel his case is just on the back [burner], sitting there. Just sitting there.”

The lawsuits in connection with this case are three of 10 that NBC 5 has filed to obtain public records on hit-and-run crashes in Chicago over the course of a now nearly two-year investigation.

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