Jury clears cops in schizophrenic man’s death

October 27, 2011

A federal jury Thursday afternoon cleared two Chicago police officers in the fatal shooting of a schizophrenic man in his Northwest Side bedroom.

Raúl Barriera, 21, died the day after Sgt. Don Jerome struck him in the chest with a Taser electrode and Patrol Officer Andrew Hurman hit him twice with gunfire.

Barriera lived with his mother, Lynette Wilson, at 1630 N. Tripp Ave. Wilson brought a lawsuit alleging that the officers used excessive force and that the death was wrongful.

The shooting took place February 28, 2007, after Wilson called 911 for help with Barriera, who was refusing to leave his bedroom. In that call, Wilson said her son was a schizophrenic on medication. Paramedics and police officers arrived but Barriera remained in his room.

The officers said they used their weapons after Barriera lunged at them with a knife. Wilson’s attorneys disputed that claim.

The trial lasted eight days and ended Wednesday. The jury, an eight-member panel, deliberated for about three hours before clearing the city and the officers of liability.

Arlene Martin, a city attorney in the case, praised the jurors. “The right thing happened,” she said.

Before the trial, U.S. Judge William J. Hibbler threw out a claim by Wilson that the officers lacked sufficient training. WBEZ revealed in 2007 that neither Jerome nor Hurman had attended a 40-hour police department course designed to help officers respond to mental-health crises without using force.

Since 2004, the department has put about 1,400 of its officers through the training. A 2008 study by Amy Watson, an associate professor of social work at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that the training had results.

“The trained officers were less likely to . . . pile on top of the person to control them, use a Taser or use some other type of force,” Watson says. “We also found that [the trained] officers directed more people to mental health services.”

After the jury returned with its findings, one of Wilson’s attorneys told WBEZ there could be grounds for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to order a retrial. The attorney, Standish Willis, called it “very likely” that Wilson would bring that appeal.