After fatally shooting a teenager nearly four years ago, two Chicago Police officers have finally been fired. The officers were the subject of intensive criticism over the years for 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, a small bit of accountability has happened.
The NY Times reports that in an 8-0 decision, the Chicago Police Board found that the officers, Michael Coughlin and Jose Torres, had violated the department’s safety rules by firing at a moving car and endangering the lives of other officers. Both men were discharged from their positions, according to a decision issued by the board in March.
“I think their actions, as the department said, were ridiculous, totally out of line and improper,” Michael Oppenheimer, a lawyer for Mr. O’Neal’s family, said. “I would even call them criminal. Because what happened was those actions helped to result in Paul O’Neal’s death.”
The admission by police at the time of the shooting appears to indicate that cops 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.
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 expressed doubt, saying:
“They shot at us too, right?”
Another says the suspect “almost hit my partner. I f**king shot at him.”
Torres can be heard lamenting that he’s going to be on “desk duty for 30 f**king 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. Well, now he’s been fired.
Officers in the footage clearly aren’t certain who is firing on whom — indicating that none of them should have been doing so.
According to the Times:
By repeatedly firing his weapon at a moving stolen vehicle, Mr. Coughlin broke Police Department rules, the board wrote, and “endangered the lives of everyone around him, including his own partner and fellow officers as well at the occupants of the stolen vehicle.” The board called his use of force “unreasonable and unjustified at all points it occurred.”
Like Mr. Coughlin, Mr. Torres endangered the lives of other officers on the scene and the occupants of the car by firing his weapon, the board found. He also violated basic traffic safety requirements, the decision said.
Police claim the body camera of the officer, Officer Jose Diaz, who fatally shot the teen in the back as he fled was not operational at the time. 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 at the time.
While the department claims there was no intentional misconduct in the lack of body camera footage, it conveniently kept from public light, the actual fatal shot, fired by Officer Diaz — after O’Neil crashed the car, got out, and was running away.
An autopsy would later reveal that the shot that killed O’Neil was fired into his back.
Though he was suspended at the time of the teen’s killing, Diaz was not fired.