Amir Worship sat on the edge of a bed shirtless and terrified, his hands raised in the air.
It was 5 a.m. and the 12-year-old boy, who had been sound asleep just moments before, was staring at a police officer standing in his bedroom about two feet away from him. The officer had allegedly barged in without warning and was now pointing an automatic rifle at Amir.
Minutes later, the young boy would be in agonizing pain, his kneecap shattered by a bullet his family alleges came from the officer’s gun, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. The suit claims a SWAT team “needlessly and recklessly terrorized and injured” Amir and his 13-year-old brother while executing a search warrant in May — the latest incident of law enforcement in the Chicago area being accused of using excessive force on children of color during raids.
“There is a silent epidemic of trauma being perpetrated upon the children and families of color by Chicago and South Suburban police barreling into the wrong homes, handcuffing innocent adults, holding guns on children, handcuffing children, trashing their homes, refusing to show warrants, and screaming dehumanizing commands,” the Worships’ attorney, Al Hofeld Jr., said in a news release Thursday. “Now, children are being shot in their beds.”
Amir’s mother, Crystal Worship, is suing the city of Country Club Hills, Ill., the village of Richton Park and several police officers for damages in excess of $50,000, alleging negligence, willful and wanton conduct, assault, battery, false arrest and imprisonment, and emotional distress.
“Our lives changed,” Worship said tearfully during a Thursday news conference. “It will never be the same.”
The Country Club Hills and Richton Park police departments, whose officers made up the SWAT team, did not respond to requests for comment late Thursday. A spokesperson with the Illinois State Police told The Washington Post that the agency received a request from the Richton Park Police Department to investigate a shooting involving one of their officers that occurred at the time of the raid. The investigation is open and ongoing.
On the morning of May 26, Worship told WBBM-TV she was in bed with her boyfriend, Mitchell Thurman. Elsewhere in the tan and white two-story house, her sons were sound asleep. Outside, the sun had yet to rise over the neighborhood in Markham, Ill., a city about 20 miles south of Chicago.
Then, chaos erupted.
SWAT officers wearing “army fatigues with black cloth covering their faces and wearing goggles” burst through the home’s doors armed with automatic rifles, throwing flash-bang grenades as they stormed inside, according to the complaint.
“Police, police, police,” Worship recalled hearing voices shout as blue light filled the house. The officers were executing a warrant for Thurman, who was arrested and charged with drug and gun possession, the suit said. The criminal case against Thurman was dismissed less than a month later.
Meanwhile, the sounds of the raid had roused Amir. Seconds later, the door of his bedroom flew open. An officer barged in, aiming a flashlight and automatic rifle at the boy, shouting at him to put his hands up, the suit claimed. Amir didn’t know it at the time, but in another room his brothers, 13-year-old Eric and 18-year-old Robert, allegedly had guns pointed at them too. Eric, the complaint alleged, was later placed in handcuffs cinched so tight that they left marks on his wrists.
“The children were terrified they were about to be killed,” the attorney’s office said in Thursday’s release.
Back in Amir’s room, the officer pulled up the shirtless boy and told him to sit on his brother’s bed, according to the lawsuit. As that officer searched the room, another one came in with his weapon trained on Amir, the lawsuit said. The second officer, described in the complaint as Caucasian, ordered Amir to put on his shoes. But when the boy tried to obey, the officer snatched one shoe away and examined it with his flashlight, all while keeping his gun aimed at Amir, the suit claimed.
The gun was allegedly not on the “safety lock position” even though “the room had already been cleared … and it was obvious that Amir was a child who was no threat to officers,” the lawsuit said. Then, as the officer was giving Amir the shoe back, he “quickly moved his right hand back to the handle and trigger of his rifle, grabbing it and firing it,” the suit alleged.
A sharp crack rang out.
“Mom, they shot me,” Amir screamed, according to the complaint.
Hearing the “deafeningly loud” sound and Amir’s shouts, his mother, who was in an adjacent room, demanded the officers tell her what was happening. Not only did the police lie and say they “shot someone walking past outside,” but they also physically restrained Worship from leaving so she could help Amir, the suit claimed. Later, authorities also allegedly did not allow Worship to go to the hospital with Amir and instead took her and Eric in for questioning, the complaint said.
“He’s my angel,” Worship said Thursday at the news conference about Amir. “As a mom, I’m supposed to protect him and I wasn’t there.”
The bullet left Amir’s kneecap in pieces. Surgeons attempted to put the bone back together, but fragments are still missing. A few days after surgery, Amir’s wound became infected, landing him in the hospital for a second time, his family alleges. Doctors say the boy won’t be able to play sports again and “will have difficulty walking and running for the rest of his life,” according to the lawsuit. “Intensive physical therapy” is expected to go on for months and additional surgeries may be needed, the suit said.
Amir and his brother Eric have also been traumatized by the incident, according to the complaint. Both boys now have trouble sleeping and suffer from recurring nightmares, and are believed to be showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, the lawsuit claimed.
All of this could have been avoided if the officer hadn’t allegedly pointed his gun at Amir, Hofeld told The Washington Post. He added that the officer was “reckless and didn’t take precautions with the 12-year-old child.”
“This case represents a textbook example of why officers should not aim their guns at children,” Hofeld said at the news conference, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
But Hofeld told The Post that what happened to the Worships is part of a larger problem. Including Thursday’s complaint, Hofeld said he has filed a total of seven lawsuits alleging that Chicago-area police used excessive force on more than a dozen children of color during raids, a majority of which occurred at the wrong residences. In July, Chicago Inspector General Joe Ferguson launched an internal investigation looking into how law enforcement executes search warrants, especially in places where children are present, WBBM-TV reported. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) also pledged to work with police to change how officers interact with children while conducting raids.
“This just doesn’t happen very often to Caucasian families or Caucasian kids,” Hofeld told The Post.
On Thursday, Worship called for someone to be held responsible.
“Amir is one of my sweethearts,” she said, choking back tears. “I just feel so sad and hurt that this happened to him.”