Chicago Police officers are now the subject of intensive criticism over the shooting death of 18-year-old Paul O’Neal, after the release of a series of body and dash cam videos showing a number of procedural errors — and a startling lack of coordination — including firing at a fleeing vehicle and an astounding admission by the cop who fired the fatal shot that he did not know if O’Neal was even armed.
That admission appears to indicate that cop perceived crossfire shots from the other officers on scene had been fired by O’Neal, when in fact the teen did not have a weapon at all. In direct violation of departmental policy, officers fired at the vehicle they believed O’Neal had stolen — worse, that gunfire directly endangered not only the suspected car thief, but other officers and everyone in the neighborhood.
In an apparent attempt to atone for the months-long delay in the release of the video showing the shooting death of Laquan McDonald — for which an officer now stands accused of murder — investigators acted swiftly to provide video to the public.
But videos of the O’Neal shooting have done little to alleviate public ire.
The staggering lack of coordination in officers firing their weapons likely inadvertently led to O’Neal’s death as cops believed gunfire was emanating from the suspect instead of each other.
In the series of nine videos, one officer accuses the suspect of firing at them, while another — who seemed to believe more than one suspect had been in the allegedly stolen vehicle — expressed doubt, saying:
“They shot at us too, right?”
Another says the suspect “almost hit my partner. I fucking shot at him.”
And one officer of several who fired his weapon laments he’s going to be on “desk duty for 30 fucking days now” — as if what amounts to a paid vacation for taking someone’s life is something to be concerned about in the immediate aftermath.
Officers in footage clearly aren’t certain who is firing on whom — indicating that perhaps none of them should have been doing so.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson did, indeed, relieve three officers of their police powers pending a thorough investigation into the fatal shooting, promising that anyone found to have acted improperly would “be held accountable for their actions.”
Just prior to the late morning release of footage by Chicago officials Friday, the head of the Independent Police Review Authority described it as “shocking and disturbing.”
Perhaps worst of all for the department’s efforts to improve community relations through transparency, the actual fatal shot — the moment O’Neal was killed — is missing from footage, entirely.
Police claim the body camera of the officer who fatally shot the teen was not operational at the time — a detail specifically being investigated. Authorities theorized the impact of the stolen Jaguar hitting the patrol vehicle — which deployed its airbags — accidentally forced the camera to begin recording. They point to the fact the camera began recording immediately after the shooting as evidence the officer thought he’d actually recorded the shooting and then shut the power off.
“We don’t believe there was any intentional misconduct with body cameras,” asserted police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Intended to restore public trust that officer misconduct will be recorded and dealt with accordingly, body cameras have proven ineffective only in further stoking ire over police brutality and use of force.
But as cops in a majority of departments have control over when their body cams record, an alarming number of incidents — as in the case of Paul O’Neal — manage to escape video. Fatal incidents that do wind up on tape frequently do little in the way of holding officers accountable for using deadly force in highly questionable circumstances.
Although officers often claim they ‘forget’ to activate their body cams, footage in the aftermath of the O’Neal shooting at one point captures a cop saying ‘Hey’ — as if alerting everyone present to its active recording to remind them to stop speaking — and everyone then goes silent.
As NBC News noted, Superintendent Garry McCarthy revised department deadly force policy in 2015, to prohibit officers from “firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person.” Officers are, however, allowed to use deadly force in the instance they are in imminent danger of being struck.
Confusion over who was shooting whom — when only officers were firing weapons — might indeed be divulged as the ultimate reason for the fatal shooting of O’Neal.
An autopsy confirmed the teen died as a result of a gunshot to the back.
Nevertheless, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Dean Angelo cautioned the public not to rush to judgment.
“Due to the fact that this chaotic incident occurred in a matter of moments, each individual perspective needs to be taken into consideration,” Angelo said, adding the union hopes authorities will exercise the “utmost level of professionalism and expertise.”