Four Chicago cops violated several police directives during a chaotic car chase, crash the fatal shooting of an unarmed teen last year, according to documents acquired by NBC 5 Investigates. But the actual shooting of the teenage theft suspect was deemed to be justified, and the officer who filed the fatal shot was exonerated on that charge.
Paul O’Neal, 18, was fatally shot in the back by a Chicago police officer after being chased in a stolen Jaguar S-Type convertible through the South Shore neighborhood in July of 2016. After the Jaguar crashed into a squad car, O’Neal bailed from the wrecked vehicle and ran to a nearby yard where he was eventually handcuffed and found to be bleeding from a gunshot wound, records show. In the confusion, officers believed O’Neal to have been armed and firing on the officers—when in reality he was unarmed and the officers had been firing at one another, documents from the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability show.
The lawyer for O'Neal's family questions COPA's findings—especially since no weapon was ever found on or near O'Neal.
"I think it's a load of crap!" attorney Michael Oppenheimer said. "Even under their own logic, they blame the other officers."
COPA–which has pledged increased transparency–closed its investigation of the O’Neal case a full month ago–Sept. 20, 2017–but still has not posted the results of that investigation on its webpage.
NBC 5 Investigates obtained the 66-page summary report late Friday, through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The report includes extensive interviews with witnesses and officers, including the four officers at the scene of the shooting. The officers were investigated for a variety of potential violations of rules of conduct, including use of deadly force, emergency use of department vehicles, activation of body cameras, and inappropriate language. COPA sustained every allegation of inappropriate conduct against all four of the responding officers, except for the shooting itself.
The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide.
COPA determined the officer who fired the fatal shot could reasonably have believed O’Neal was shooting at him, when O’Neal drove towards him in a Jaguar convertible amid a hail of CPD bullets. All of those gunshots were actually coming from other police officers, but, as COPA notes in the report, the officer could reasonably have believed that the other officers would not be firing their guns, since that would be a violation of CPD policy. Therefore, COPA said, it would make sense that the officer would believe the gunshots were coming, instead, from the Jaguar, and that O’Neal had a gun and posed a danger to the officer.
Officers told investigators on several occasions they heard multiple gunshots but couldn’t tell where the fire or was coming from or who was shooting.
At one point, an officer is heard on bodycam footage asking "They shot at us too right?"
"They're clearly in violation. Their behavior was quite frankly reprehensible and disgusting," Oppenheimer said.
Several officers also told investigators they forgot to turn on their body cameras at the time of the shooting and that they were too focused on handling the tumultuous situation.
The report does not give any information as to whether any of the officers have been disciplined, as a result of these findings.
O’Neal’s family filed a wrongful death suit in federal court in August 2016.
"Clearly he was trying to get away... It doesn't mean it's a license to kill for a property crime," Oppenheimer said. "COPA goes along with that because they don't want their officer to be found liable."