Sergeant Gets 6-Month Suspension Despite A Finding He Had No Reason To Shoot Teen With Mental Disabilities | WBEZ
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Sergeant Gets 6-Month Suspension Despite A Finding He Had No Reason To Shoot Teen With Mental Disabilities

Updated Dec. 13 at 12:55 p.m.

The Chicago Police Board on Thursday evening handed a six-month suspension to a sergeant despite a finding he had no reason to shoot a South Side teenager with mental disabilities.

The board found Sgt. Khalil Muhammad guilty of violating four Police Department rules in the 2017 shooting, which wounded Ricardo Hayes, 18.

The 180-day unpaid suspension follows findings by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the city agency that investigates shootings by officers, that Muhammad had no reason to think Hayes had committed a crime before the sergeant chased the teen and no reason to think Hayes was armed and dangerous before shooting him.

The board decided to forgo an evidentiary hearing in the case after Muhammad pleaded guilty to violating the rules and using deadly force “without lawful justification” and “without a reasonable belief that such force was necessary when he fired one or more shots” at Hayes. The sergeant also agreed to accept the suspension.

Seven board members voted for the suspension. Two others, Rev. Michael Eaddy and Rhoda D. Sweeney, were present but did not vote.

Attorney Gabriel Hardy, who filed a lawsuit for the victim, said the suspension was far too lenient.

“We’re very disappointed that an officer who used deadly force on an unarmed, handicapped teenager — who wasn’t doing anything wrong — would get this slap on the wrist instead of termination,” Hardy said.

COPA recommended a suspension of just three months for Muhammad, the sergeant, after completing its investigation.

COPA’s handling of the shooting led some aldermen to call for a City Council hearing about alleged pro-police bias at the agency, headed by Chief Administrator Sydney Roberts.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot backed Roberts and said the chief administrator understood “her job is to call balls and strikes and to make sure she is doing the right thing.”

As the discipline case unfolded, COPA agreed with then-police Superintendent Eddie Johnson that the suspension should be doubled to 180 days. Johnson filed the discipline charges in June.

The shooting took place August 13, 2017, around 5 a.m. on a residential block of the Morgan Park neighborhood, according to city records. Muhammad, who was off duty and sitting in the driver’s seat of his girlfriend’s SUV, told investigators he feared for his life.

A home security video recording released by COPA appears to show Hayes running from Muhammad. Hayes can then be seen stopping and standing still on the sidewalk facing the street as Muhammad pulls up. Hayes takes a couple tentative steps toward the vehicle, which is in the middle of the street, before Muhammad fires multiple shots.

Hayes suffered a through-and-through wound to his left armpit and a graze wound to his upper left arm.

Later Muhammad called 911 and said, “The guy pulled, like he was about to pull, a gun on me, walked up to the car and I had to shoot.”

But Hayes was unarmed.

In its findings, COPA concluded that Muhammad — wearing a hoodie and driving the civilian vehicle — could not reasonably expect Hayes to obey his commands because he was not obviously a cop.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office declined to bring criminal charges against the sergeant.

City attorneys, in a May court filing, denied that Muhammad reported falsely in the 911 call, denied that the video showed the shooting to be unjustified, and denied that Hayes never gave the sergeant any reason to shoot.

A different sergeant, Isaac Lambert, brought a whistleblower lawsuit in March claiming he was demoted for refusing to hide the truth about the shooting.

Lambert’s attorney, Torreya Hamilton, called Muhammad “too dangerous to be a police officer.”

Muhammad has been stripped of police powers and assigned to desk duty since shortly after the incident, according to CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. WBEZ criminal justice reporter Patrick Smith contributed. Follow them at @ChipMitchell1 and @pksmid.

Correction: An earlier version of the photo caption misstated Hayes' age at the time of the shooting. He was 18. 

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