A 13-year-old boy 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, saying the incident illustrates deeply flawed implementation of department policy on the pursuit of suspects.
The bullet severely damaged part of the Black teenager’s spine, possibly rendering him permanently paralyzed by the May 18 late night shooting, the filing in Chicago’s U.S. District Court says. Police have said previously the boy was in a car suspected of involvement in a carjacking in a nearby suburb the day before and that he jumped out and started running. He hasn’t been charged.
The excessive force lawsuit says the seventh grader, who had been a passenger, was complying with orders from several officers running behind him through the grounds of a West Side gas station and screaming for him to put up his hands.
The boy, referred to in the lawsuit only by his initials, “was unarmed and did as he was instructed. But the officer still shot him — recklessly, callously, and wantonly — right through his back,” the filing alleges.
The shooting is the latest to put a spotlight on the Chicago Police Department’s history of aggressive pursuit practices, which the city had vowed to change. Reform advocates say a still-inadequate pursuit policy and poor training has too often led officers to chase and shoot suspects who posed no threat. Police have said they are finalizing a permanent policy, but one was still not in place.
The officer’s name hasn’t been released and he is referred to as John Doe Officer in the filing. He was relieved of his police powers last week. The lawsuit names Doe and the city of Chicago as defendants and seeks unspecified damages for, among other things, mental anguish and future caretaking expenses.
The city’s law department said in a Thursday statement that it hadn’t been officially served with the complaint and that it wouldn’t comment further on the pending litigation.
The filing says the boy did not have a weapon and did nothing to make the officer believe he was armed or a danger to anyone. It adds that the use of use of force “was not objectively reasonable” and “was neither necessary nor proportional.”
Police Supt. David Brown said last week that the fleeing teenager turned toward the officer and the officer fired. No weapon was found at the scene, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency that investigates officer shootings, confirmed last week. COPA said it had footage from the officer’s body-worn camera but couldn’t release it because the boy is a minor.
Thursday’s filing says the officer knew or should have known that safer alternatives to a foot pursuit were available. Among the options, it says, was to establish a perimeter to contain the boy, then eventually arrest him. At least one police helicopter was overhead and other officers and patrol cars were in the area, honing in on the boy, it says.
The lawsuit says the department has been agonizingly slow in bringing its pursuit policy up to best-practice standards, saying that prior to June 2021 the department had “no pursuit policy at all.”
A scathing 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Justice that accused the Chicago Police Department of “tolerating racially discriminatory conduct” by officers also singled out its pursuit practices for blistering criticism.
“We found that officers engage in tactically unsound and unnecessary foot pursuit, and that those foot pursuits too often end with officers unreasonably shooting someone — including unarmed individuals,” the report said.
The report led to a federal consent decree, a court supervised plan to overhaul the department that, among a long list of requirements, demanded that a fully upgraded police pursuit policy be in place by autumn of last year, according to the lawsuit. But the suit said the city missed the deadline.
“After (the department) implemented a woefully inadequate temporary foot pursuit policy, it dragged its feet in updating that policy,” the filing says. “It not only missed the September 2021 deadline imposed by the Consent Decree, but eight months later, the policy is still not in place.”
City officials responsible for implementing the reforms have previously denied that it has dragged their feet or disregarded deadlines.
The filing argues last week’s shooting may not have occurred had a sound pursuit policy been in place.
“The deep-seeded systemic problems that led to the entry of the Consent Decree — implicit bias and failures in training, supervision, and accountability — still exist today,” the lawsuit said. It add that the 13-year-old “is the latest victim of CPD’s systemic failures.”