A group of religious leaders is calling for the Midlothian Police Department to fire the white officer who killed a black security guard last weekend at a nightclub in south suburban Robbins.
Witnesses say the guard, 26-year-old Jemel Roberson, had subdued one of the people involved in a shooting at the club when police arrived and shot him. But if history is any indication, it is unlikely the officer will face any discipline or retraining at all: In Cook County suburbs like Midlothian, there’s little review of officer-involved shootings.
WBEZ criminal justice reporter Patrick Smith, who reported on the lack of police accountability in the suburbs with the Better Government Association in a series called “Taking Cover,” talks with host Melba Lara about some of the big picture issues surrounding the shooting.
Who’s investigating what
Patrick Smith: The Cook County sheriff is in charge of investigating the nightclub shooting — essentially the shooting that brought police to the scene in the first place. And it’s the Public Integrity Task Force, a division of the Illinois State Police, that is investigating whether or not the officer who fired his weapon committed a crime when he shot the security guard. That criminality is a really high bar and it actually leaves out a lot. The officer could have done something that was within the law, but not within best practices or not within policy. And as far as we know, no one is looking at that part.
In our reporting, we looked at each police shooting in the Cook County suburbs since 2005. In more than a hundred shootings, not a single officer was charged with a crime for any of those shootings. Attorney Jon Loevy, who has handles a lot of police shooting cases, says that’s because the Illinois State Police is biased toward officers.
The Midlothian Police Department’s history
Smith: This was the third shooting since 2005 by a Midlothian police officer. That’s a lot less than Chicago and a lot less than other suburbs around it. However, their chief, Daniel Delaney, was actually involved in a shooting, back in 2006 before he was chief, where he shot someone who was dragging another officer with a car — the officer was in danger of being run over.
And this case, to me, is the perfect example of why you need more than just a criminal investigation because the shooting itself was clearly within the law: He was protecting an officer. However, the things that led up to it seem like places where you’d need better training. This is a guy who was in handcuffs in the back of the car, he escaped the handcuffs and the car, hid in the bushes, and then when the officer chased him he ran around the officer and beat him back to the squad car and stole it — that’s the car he was driving when he was shot. There are a lot of things there that clearly didn’t go the way they were supposed to.
Is anyone looking at if the officer followed policy in the shooting of Jemel Roberson?
Smith: The state police are supposed to only look at if a crime occurred. After our series came out earlier this year, a state law was passed that required individual departments to do that sort of policy review. It doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2019. I talked to state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who is the attorney general-elect and who got the bill passed. He said, of course, he thinks that should happen here in Midlothian even though it’s not required. The Midlothian Police Department isn’t saying if they’re doing that kind of investigation or not.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Arionne Nettles.