Police accountability advocates say they’re troubled by a recommendation to keep an officer on the force who shot a teenager without justification. A city investigation found Chicago Police Sgt. Khalil Muhammad had no reason to think the teen, Ricardo Hayes, had committed a crime and yet the officer pursued him and shot him twice. The agency that investigates police shootings, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, or COPA, initially recommended a 90-day suspension for the officer, but is now agreeing to a proposed 6-month suspension.
“It’s deeply troubling that COPA could make the right call in terms of what happened here, and in terms of what the officer did wrong, but still say this is an officer we want on our police force,” said Sheila Bedi, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice center.
According to COPA’s investigation, Hayes has an intellectual disability and snuck out of his house on Aug. 13, 2017. Muhammad was off-duty, and not in uniform, when he saw the teenager around 5 a.m. Hayes began running, and Muhammad pursued him in his personal vehicle, eventually shooting twice. Hayes was injured, but survived.
The report says Muhammad said that he believed Hayes was reaching towards his waistband for a dark object, and Muhammad believed Hayes was going to kill him.
Karen Sheley, director of the Police Practices Project with the ACLU of Illinois, said she is concerned about the officer returning to duty and that there needed to be assurances that he wouldn’t hurt people again.
“Young people with disabilities are much more likely to be subject to force, and it should be taken very seriously by the department when they are. And this doesn’t look like it’s a serious enough response,” said Sheley.
While COPA’s investigation into the incident found the shooting unjustified, a police sergeant conducting a parallel investigation for the department said he was pressured by bosses to make the shooting appear justified. Sgt. Isaac Lambert is now suing the city because he claims when he refused to go along with the request he was given a less desirable work assignment as retaliation.
Craig Futterman, clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago, said the shooting of Hayes illustrated a trifecta of issues: the unjustified shooting itself, the attempts to cover it up and the lack of strong oversight.
“I can’t say how dispiriting this is, that this happened now after the lessons from the murder of Laquan McDonald, after the Department of Justice investigation, after the many pledges from CPD’s leadership about their commitment to reform,” said Futterman.
The union that represents Chicago police sergeants did not immediately return a request for comment. The Chicago Police Department declined to comment while the disciplinary process was still ongoing.
The recommended suspension goes to the police board which will make the final decision on discipline for Muhammad. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has not yet sent the charges to the police board.
Shannon Heffernan is a criminal justice reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @shannon_h.