A central Illinois police officer was justified when he fatally shot a man who fired at him and shot and killed his partner last week, a prosecutor says.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz assessed Officer Jeffrey Creel’s use of deadly force by examining police body camera footage, scene photos, 911 calls, autopsy results and other information from the investigation led by the Illinois State Police, The (Champaign) News-Gazette reported.
"This is my preliminary opinion. I don’t expect it to change at all. I am confident that certainly from a legal perspective this was a justifiable use of deadly force and from a tactical perspective, Officer (Jeff) Creel’s acts were heroic,” Reitz said Thursday.
The shooting happened after Creel and Officer Christopher Oberheim went to an apartment complex in Champaign shortly after 3 a.m. on May 19 in response to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance.
Creel spotted a man, later identified as Darion Marquise Lafayette, 24, of Champaign, leave the building and get into a car, Rietz said. Both officers could see that Lafayette was alone and that he had a cellphone in his left hand and was reaching toward the passenger seat with his right hand. Rietz said that Lafayette got out of the car, told Creel, “I ain't got nothin', man,” then came at Creel and started struggling with the officer.
She said Creel tried to wrap Lafayette in a bear hug, but Lafayette broke free and began firing a gun he had in his right hand. Neither officer had drawn their weapons, she said.
According to Reitz, Oberheim, 44, was hit first. Lafayette shot Creel twice in the chest and once in the left arm. Authorities determined that Creel's body camera became dislodged during the struggle and Oberheim's came off when he was shot.
"Creel reported the next thing he remembered was that he was able to get to his feet and move to the rear of the vehicle, where he observed Officer Oberheim lying on the sidewalk with a severe gunshot wound to the head, and Darion Lafayette on his feet next to Officer Oberheim,” Rietz said.
"Fearing that Darion would again try to shoot and kill me and Officer Oberheim, I immediately fired my sidearm numerous times into Darion until I felt we were safe,” Creel said in his report.
Reitz, who said Creel's bulletproof vest “absolutely saved his life,” praised the way Creel "was able to get up to assess the situation, see that his partner was seriously injured and that the assailant was standing over him with the ability to do further harm to Officer Oberheim, Creel or somebody else and he was able to respond and end the threat.”