Beleaguered Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for reform after a police officer arriving at the scene of a domestic disturbance fatally shot two people on Saturday, including a 55-year-old mother of five who authorities said was “accidentally struck and tragically killed.”
In a statement offering scant detail, Chicago police said they “were confronted by a combative subject” that resulted in “the discharging of the officer’s weapon.”
But the families of Bettie Jones, an anti-violence activist who had just hosted relatives for Christmas, and Quintonio LeGrier, 19, an emotionally disturbed college student home for holiday break, say police violently overreacted to a controllable situation, according to CBS affiliate WBBM.
Both individuals were pronounced dead at hospitals within an hour of being shot, according to the Associated Press.
“He wasn’t just a thug on the street, he was an honor student in college and high school,” LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told WBBM. “Seven bullets were put in my son. Seven.”
“Eight shots were fired,” she added tearfully. “One hit an innocent lady who was just opening her door. Something is wrong with this picture.”
Noting that “there are serious questions” about the shootings “that must be answered in full by the Independent Police Review Authority’s investigation,” Emanuel on Sunday called for changes in how Chicago police are trained, the Sun-Times reported.
“It is clear changes are needed to how officers respond to mental health crises,” the mayor said in his statement. “This afternoon I directed the new Acting Chief Administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority and the Interim Superintendent of Police to meet with each other as soon as possible to review the Crisis Intervention Team training, around how officers respond to mental health crisis calls. I have asked that they determine the deficiencies in the current training, and determine what steps can be taken immediately to address them.”
Supt. John Escalate, the interim head of the Chicago Police Department, said he “strongly” supports Emanuel’s call “for a full evaluation of the effectiveness of the current crisis intervention training and de-escalation policies,” the Sun-Times reported.
The fatal police shootings occurred while the Chicago Police Department is being scrutinized by the Justice Department, which has opened a wide-ranging investigation into whether the department’s practices contribute to civil rights violations. The investigation was launched after the release of video last month showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan Macdonald, who was black. The footage led to murder charges for Van Dyke and the resignation of the city’s police chief.
The medical examiner’s office confirmed that Jones and LeGrier were black, but police have not revealed the race of the officer, according to the AP. The statement released by the department said the officers involved will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days while “training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted.”
“The 55 year old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed,” the statement noted. “The department extends its deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.”
Relatives told the Chicago Tribune that the incident began when LeGrier — who had suffered from severe mood swings in recent months — grew agitated and picked up an aluminum bat while he was in his father’s upstairs apartment. Hoping to defuse the situation, LeGrier’s father called police.
“His father was scared because that’s not his character,” Cooksey, 49, who was not present at the shooting, told the paper. She told WBBM that she thought her son would be transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, a standard practice at police departments across the country.
Before authorities arrived, LeGrier’s father told Jones, his downstairs neighbor, to stay away from his son and keep an eye out for police, family members told the Tribune.
As officers arrived, a relative told the paper, LeGrier came to the front door downstairs. Relatives said they believe Jones was behind the 19-year-old and by the entrance to her apartment when the shooting began.
ABC-affiliate WLS reported that it’s unclear whether Jones had finished opening the door when one or more officers shot at LeGrier, “who was charging down the stairs still carrying the bat.”
Latisha Jones, 19, told the paper that she was awakened by gunfire and saw her mother on the floor of her apartment with a bullet wound in her neck.
“She wasn’t saying anything,” Jones said. “I had to keep checking for a pulse.”
Antonio LeGrier told the AP that moments earlier he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, Whoa Whoa!” Gunshots followed, he said, and by the time he arrived on the first floor, he found his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
“I identified myself as the father and I held my hands out,” he said.
The Police Department did not say where the victims were standing when they were shot, but blood could be seen in the small vestibule and just inside Jones’ apartment. At least one bullet appeared to have traveled through Jones’ apartment, hitting at least two walls.
“He didn’t have a gun,” Cooksey told the paper. “He had a bat. One or two times would have brought him down.”
She added: “You call the police, you try to get help and you lose a loved one. What are they trained for? Just to kill? I thought that we were supposed to get service and protection. I mean, my son was an honor student. He’s here for Christmas break, and now I’ve lost him.”
Jones, the 55-year-old victim, was known as a community activist who spent her free time speaking out on issues such as police brutality that affected black Chicagoans on the far West Side, where she lived all her life, and who often attended vigils for people killed in street violence.
“For her to fall victim to the very thing she fought against — it’s disgusting,” her cousin, Nikia Glover, told The Washington Post.
The Sun-Times reported that Emanuel, who is vacationing in Cuba, called Jones’ family Sunday morning, according to a mayoral spokesman.
LeGrier told the AP that his son was a student at Northern Illinois University, where he was majoring in electrical engineering technology. He described him as a whiz kid, the AP reported. He was a high school graduate of a prep school on the South Side of Chicago.
At a news conference on Sunday, LeGrier’s mother told reporters that her son was not violent or troubled.
“He ran a marathon last year for a charity,” Cooksey said.
Her son was shot in the buttocks, proving that he was turning away from officers when he was shot, she said.
“What happened to tasers?” she asked.
At the same press conference, friends and relatives of Jones said they were equally furious that police didn’t use a taser to deescalate the situation.
“Why you got to shoot first and ask questions later?” Jaqueline Walker, a childhood friend of Jones, asked before breaking into tears. “Don’t start shooting people — innocent people.”
A GoFundMe page has been created to raise money for Jones’s funeral.
Jones’s brother told the Tribune that his sister — a mother of four daughters and one son — lived with her boyfriend. Family members said she loved going to church and loved her family just as much. Only a day earlier, he told the paper, a large group of relatives had gathered in the apartment to celebrate Christmas with food and card games.
Little did they know, this year’s festivities were more than a holiday — they were also a final goodbye.
“She had an excellent Christmas. Family was over,” Melvin Jones said. “And then to wake up to this.”
On Sunday, under a soft rain and a gray sky, people stood on the steps of her home home while others huddled along the sidewalk and the street to listen to different neighborhood pastors lead prayers. Pastor Ira Acree of the Greater St. John Bible Church called for President Obama, a longtime Chicago resident, to “express his outrage” at the police department. “We are under siege and we need help and leadership we can trust,” he said.
In late November, Obama released a brief statement on Facebook saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the McDonald video.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also spoke, saying that while national media focuses on international terrorism, the frequent violence of Chicago’s streets is often ignored.
Much of the anger was directed to Emanuel.
Activists say that they now plan to redirect their protests against major donors to Emanuel’s recent reelection campaign, as well as black pastors who endorsed him in the past. A protest is planned this week outside the office of one of Emanuel’s top backers, Kenneth Griffin, the Chicago billionaire who is the chief executive of the Citadel hedge fund.
Glover, Jones’s cousin, said her family is likely to file a lawsuit against the city. But before that happens, she said, the relatives plan to join marches to demand police accountability.
“It’s very personal now,” she said. “We want to continue what she started.”
This post, originally published on Dec. 27, has been updated. Mark Guarino contributed reporting from Chicago.