‘A gun that could never have been fired’

‘A gun that could never have been fired’
Calvin Cross before heading to prom. Cross was shot and killed by Chicago police in 2011 near his home in West Pullman. Photo courtesy of the Cross family
‘A gun that could never have been fired’
Calvin Cross before heading to prom. Cross was shot and killed by Chicago police in 2011 near his home in West Pullman. Photo courtesy of the Cross family

‘A gun that could never have been fired’

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Calvin Cross was two blocks from his home on a spring night in 2011. He had just returned from Job Corps, where he earned a certificate for brick laying; and had recently learned that his longtime girlfriend was pregnant. After finishing dinner at home, where he lived with his mom and two older sisters, Cross went out with a friend Ryan Cornell. Both men were 19 years old—and black—walking in the West Pullman neighborhood.

Just about a month later, Cross’ girlfriend Tunoka Jett would give birth to a baby boy: A son Cross would never meet.

Near the corner of 124th and Wallace streets, a Chicago police car with three on-duty officers inside pulled up next to the teens. The police officers would later say they were responding to reports of gunshots in the area—and that Cross was holding his waistband, as if he had a gun.

The chronology of events after the car pulled up is in dispute—and will never be settled—but new light has been shed on the case by a recently released report from the city agency charged with investigating police misconduct.

What is known is that, at some point, the officers got out of the car, Cross started running—and the three cops chased him, firing 45 shots and hitting Cross five times.

According to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s report, a bullet to Cross’ face was the shot that ultimately killed him.

“My client runs, Ryan Cornell stays put. The three officers chase my client, Ryan Cornell goes back to my client’s home and tells his mom they’re shooting at Calvin,” Cross family attorney Tony Thedford said of that night.

And Cross’ mom, Dana, said she heard the gunshots from her home.

Thedford said Calvin Cross’ fatal decision to run from the police, rather than stay put like Cornell, was the result of Cross’ relative inexperience dealing with police.

The 19-year-old had never been arrested; his mom described her youngest child as a “homebody.”

“He was an easygoing person, well liked…he was in the men’s choir at our church,” Dana Cross said. “He didn’t hang out…he liked to stay at home [and] play games.”

The Chicago Police Department referred questions about the shooting to the city’s law department; and an attorney for the three cops involved declined a request to interview the officers. So this account is based on federal court filings, testimony by a city attorney, a report from the Independent Police Review Authority, Cross’ mother and her family’s attorneys.

The officers involved said while Cross was running, he opened fire, forcing them to shoot back.

The Independent Police Review Authority—the agency charged with investigating officer-involved shootings—ruled the shooting justified; but the final report, released Friday, notes that the weapon recovered was never fired, directly contradicting the officers’ version of events.

“The detectives’ Supplementary Report indicates that, although the involved officers all reported that Subject 1 fired at them, the recovered revolver was fully-loaded,” the IPRA report reads, and goes on to say, that “a gunshot residue examination on [Cross] was negative.”

And the Illinois State Police Crime Lab ruled that the gun recovered at the scene was “inoperable.”

Also, family attorney Torreya Hamilton said there were no fingerprints on the gun.

“Why, when the police department learned that these police officers were fired at with a gun that was impossible to be fired, why weren’t they looked at for criminal charges?” Hamilton asked. “Unless you have a video, apparently…you’re not going to be looked at for criminal charges if you’re a police officer. And these police officers are still out on the street. They’re still telling the story about being shot at with a gun that could never have been fired at them.”

And Thedford says the unusable weapon found by police was hundreds of feet away from the crime scene, and out of Cross’ path.

“Where he was found dead was at a fence. Our belief is that he was trying to get past that fence so he could keep running,” Thedford said. “We believe, and will always believe, that our client ran because he was afraid. He saw this weapon and he ran.”

On May 31, 2012, exactly one year after Cross’ death, his family filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the officers involved. And on Wednesday, the Chicago City Council approved a $2 million payout to settle the case.

Thedford said Cross’ son, now 3 years old, was the impetus for settling a case they had long expected would go to trial.

And after taking out attorneys fees, all of the remaining settlement will go to the child - named Calvin, after his father - in monthly payments to a trust until he turns 30.

“At least I know he’ll be taken care of,” his grandmother said. “But if I could give all that money back so he can have his daddy back, that’s what I’d do.”

Cross said she is too angry to talk about the fact that the shooting was ruled justified and the officers remain on the force. She’s also haunted by the lack of attention paid to her son’s death.

“No police officer ever came to talk to me. No news people ever came to talk to me. Nobody. It’s like my son was shot and killed and it’s just that’s it, that’s all,” Cross said.

Thedford thinks that silence is because of who Calvin was: A 19-year-old black man on the South Side of Chicago.

“Is there an expectation that he’s a part of some faceless, nameless horde that they always get shot, they’re always up to something, there’s always some assumption that he must have been up to no good? I think the reason that it was immediately believed that whatever version the police officers gave was correct is because he fit the mold,” Thedford said.

On the same day the city approved the Cross settlement, the city council also agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the 2010 death of Joshua Madison. Taking these most recent settlements into account, the city has paid out a total of $8 million so far this year for Chicago police shootings.

Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Producer/Reporter. Follow him @pksmid.