There was high drama in a Daley Center courtroom Thursday, as police Superintendent Eddie Johnson made a rare appearance on the witness stand in a wrongful death lawsuit against a Chicago Police officer.
At issue, the 2013 shooting of 17-year-old Christian Green, who was shot in the back as he fled police near the corner of 57th and State on a sunny fourth of July.
“I was told that he was shot at 11 times,” Green’s mother Patricia told NBC 5. “And one bullet hit him in the back.”
There is no dispute that Green had a gun. That is evidenced in surveillance video released to NBC 5 after a court hearing Thursday morning. On that video, Green is seen running from police, and at one point, attempting to throw a handgun into a trash basket. The weapon bounces out, Green picks it up, and keeps running.
Everyone agrees that he was shot by officer Robert Gonzalez seconds later, in an open field less than a block away.
“Any time anyone, male, female, black or white is fleeing and is shot in the back, that is cause for alarm,” Green family attorney Victor Henderson told NBC 5 in December of 2015. “Officer Gonzalez shot at Christian 11 times, not once, not twice, but eleven times.”
Initial reports stated that Green had been shot in the chest. The autopsy showed he had been shot in the back. Police argue the distinction is largely academic, arguing that Green was turning as he ran, pointing the gun at Gonzalez.
It was a central issue Thursday as the police superintendent testified.
“Is it OK to shoot somebody in the back?” Henderson asked.
“I have a constant reminder right here that someone can fire at you while they are running away,” Johnson replied, alluding to an incident from 2005 where he suffered a graze wound from an offender on the street.
Describing his own role that day, Johnson said he made certain to separate the four officers who had been involved in the shooting, and did individual walk-throughs of the area with each officer, so that he could make sure they didn’t collaborate on their stories.
“Isn’t part of your job to stick by your colleagues?” Henderson asked.
“Part of my job is to get to the facts,” Johnson said. “The facts will guide my decision.”
Henderson notes that police reports reveal that the handgun in Green’s case was found 75 feet from the teenager’s body. On the stand Thursday, Gonzalez’ partner George Hernandez attempted to explain that, saying he watched as Green dropped the gun after being shot, then stumbled momentarily before falling to the ground. And he repeated the contention that Green was pointing the weapon when his partner fired.
“I thought we were going to get shot,” he said. “My mind set is to get out of the car and help my partner out.”
Three officers have now testified. All have insisted they never discussed the events among themselves, even during repeated sessions preparing for trial. Hernandez insisted he never even discussed the shooting when riding alone in the car with his partner.
Gonzalez himself is expected to take the stand Friday morning.