Chicago Police Are Investigating Officers Who Allegedly Advised A Man On How To Legally Shoot His Neighbor

Chicago police car
A Humboldt Park man said police refused to arrest his machete-wielding neighbor, citing concerns about COVID-19. Bill Healy / WBEZ
Chicago police car
A Humboldt Park man said police refused to arrest his machete-wielding neighbor, citing concerns about COVID-19. Bill Healy / WBEZ

Chicago Police Are Investigating Officers Who Allegedly Advised A Man On How To Legally Shoot His Neighbor

The Chicago Police Department is investigating officers who responded to multiple 911 calls, but then refused to arrest a machete-wielding man. Instead, the officers allegedly advised a resident on how he could legally shoot his neighbor.

The investigation into the Humboldt Park disturbance follows reporting by WBEZ.

A man WBEZ is identifying as William described being terrorized by his next door neighbor, who William said broke a fence and came onto his property with a machete and later tried to light the grass on fire. WBEZ agreed not to identify William because he was worried about further threats.

William said police refused to arrest the man, citing concerns about spreading the coronavirus, and instead gave the neighbor a ticket. The officers also told William he would be within his rights to shoot the neighbor if he came on his property with a weapon.

Police spokesman Tom Ahern said on Tuesday that the department has opened an investigation into the incident.

“While the Department has directed all officers during the COVID-19 crisis to handle low-level and nonviolent crimes via citation and misdemeanor summons as opposed to physical arrest, we are looking into this specific incident to determine whether the appropriate actions were taken given the reported circumstances,” Ahern said in a written statement. “If any officer gave advice to an individual on shooting someone or if any wrongdoing is found by these officers, they will be held accountable.”

Superintendent David Brown also reviewed COVID-19 protocols with district commanders Monday afternoon, according to the statement from Ahern.

The department had previously instructed officers to issue citations whenever possible to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, those guidelines explicitly tell officers to make an arrest when “there is a reasonable likelihood that the offense will continue, recur, or that life or property will be endangered if the violator is not arrested and removed from the scene of the occurrence.”

City data show arrests are down almost 75% since the start of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.

William said, as of Tuesday, police had not reached out to him to investigate the conduct of officers who responded to his 911 call. He said he was skeptical the investigation would make much difference.

“Looking into it is one thing, and actually making changes and making this neighborhood safer is a completely different thing,” William said.

He also said he isn’t interested in individual officers being punished.

“My goal is to make it safer for everyone … but also safer for the cops,” William said. “I mean, I don’t want their job. I don’t want to do what they do, walking into chaos every other half hour out here. But at the same time, if you want to be the change, you got to be the change somehow.”

William said he hasn’t been going out into his yard much lately, out of fear of his neighbor.

He added that he’s been “hunkered down” and checks his security cameras to make sure his neighbor isn’t outside before he leaves his house.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.