CHICAGO – A 13-year-old boy who was shot in the back by a Chicago police officer was unarmed and had his arms raised to surrender when he was hit by the bullet, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday, in which it said the incident demonstrated a deeply flawed implementation of the department’s policy for prosecuting suspects.
The bullet severely damaged part of the black teenager’s spine, possibly rendering him permanently paralyzed the shooting on the 18th, according to the filing with the US District Court of Chicago. Police previously said the boy was in a car suspected of being involved in a car theft in a nearby suburb the day before and that he jumped out and started running. He wasn’t charged.
The excessive force lawsuit says the seventh-grader, who had been a passenger, collated orders from several officers who yelled at him to put his hands up.
The boy, named only by his initials in the lawsuit, “was unarmed and did as he was told. But the officer still — ruthlessly, callously, and wantonly — shot him right through the back,” the filing reads.
The shooting is the latest to shine a spotlight on the story of the Chicago Police Department’s aggressive pursuit practices, which the city promised to change. Reform advocates say that still-inadequate prosecution policies and poor training have too often prompted officers to hunt down and shoot suspects who posed no threat. Police say they’re finalizing a policy but one isn’t here yet.
The officer’s name was not released and he is referred to in the file as John Doe Officer. He was relieved of his police powers last week. The lawsuit names Doe and the City of Chicago as defendants and seeks unspecified damages, including for emotional distress and future care costs.
A message seeking comment from the city’s legal department Thursday morning did not immediately receive a response.
The file says the boy had no gun and did nothing to make officers believe he was armed or a danger to anyone. It adds that the use of force was “not objectively reasonable” and “neither necessary nor proportionate”.
Police Supt. David Brown said last week the fleeing teenager turned to the officer and the officer fired. No weapon was found at the scene, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency that investigates shootings of officers, confirmed last week. COPA said it had footage from the officer’s body-worn camera but could not release it because the boy was a minor.
Thursday’s filing says the officer knew or should have known that safer alternatives to foot tracking were available. One of the options, it is said, was to establish a perimeter to contain the boy and then eventually arrest him. At least one police helicopter was overhead and other officers and patrol cars were in the area examining the boy, sources said.
The lawsuit alleges the department was painfully slow to align its tracking policy with best-practice standards before June 2021 The department had “no prosecution policy at all.”
A scathing report from 2017 The US Department of Justice, which accused the Chicago Police Department of tolerating “racially discriminatory behavior” by officers, also singled out his prosecution practices for severe criticism.
“We have found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuits, and that too often these foot pursuits end in officers inappropriately shooting anyone — including unarmed individuals,” the report said.
The report led to a federal consent order, a court-supervised plan to overhaul the department, which among a long list of requirements called for a fully improved police prosecution policy to be implemented by last fall, according to the lawsuit. But the lawsuit said the city missed the deadline.
“Having implemented a woefully inadequate temporary foot tracking policy, (the department) has been reluctant to update that policy,” the filing reads. “Not only was the September 2021 deadline imposed by the Consent Decree missed, but eight months later the policy is still not in effect.”
City officials responsible for implementing the reforms have previously denied dragging their feet or disregarding deadlines.
The filing argues that last week’s shooting might not have happened had a sound prosecution policy been in place.
“The deep-seated systemic problems that led to the issuance of the Consent Decree — implicit bias and failures in education, oversight and accountability — persist today,” the lawsuit reads. It adds that the 13-year-old is “the youngest victim of systemic failures of CPD.”
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