DES PLAINES, Ill. — A body camera worn by a suburban Chicago police officer who shot a black couple in their car was only turned on moments after the shooting — a fact that the lawyers representing the woman strongly suggests an attempt to cover up what had happened even before he opened fire.
"It's like he was trying to cover up a narrative to justify this use of excessive force," attorney Ben Crump told reporters on Tuesday shortly before the city of Waukegan released six short videos of the events of Oct. 20 to the public.
Waukegan Police have said that the officer, who has not been publicly identified, fatally shot 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette and seriously injured 20-year-old Tafara Willliams because he feared for his life when the vehicle Williams was driving rolled toward him after a traffic stop.
In one of the videos a woman, presumably Williams, can be heard, asking, "Why'd you shoot us?" and later the officer can be heard telling her that she’d tried to run him over. Later, the officer can be heard telling others who arrived at the scene, presumably fellow officers, that, "They almost ran me over.
On Wednesday, a day after expressing optimism that investigators would get to the bottom of what happened, attorneys were having none of the officer's account of what had happened.
"That is the false narrative that we continue to talk about. This police officer has zero — absolute zero — credibility," Antonio Romanucci said. "There should be no weight given to his self-serving statement for the use of deadly force against what clearly appears to be a stationary car, and his feet were stationary at the same time."
And Crump said there were only two possible explanations for the officer's failure to turn on his body camera until after the shooting.
"It’s regrettable when you have officers who either were not trained properly or who intentionally and consciously made an effort not to turn on their bodycam video so we would see what they did to cause the death of Marcellis Stinnette and horrific injuries to Tafara Williams," he said. "What we saw was just bits and pieces. ... There was no need to use this excessive deadly force. There was no need. It was a traffic stop."
Authorities have not discussed the attorneys' contention, but within just a few days of the shooting, the city did fire the officer in part for not turning on the body camera sooner, a clear "breach" of department policies, according to a statement issued Wednesday by Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham.
On Tuesday, Williams told reporters during a video call from her hospital bed that she and Stinnette didn’t do anything to provoke the shooting. She said after the shooting, Stinnette was badly wounded yet still breathing but the only help officers gave him was a blanket.
"They allowed him to die," she said. "They wanted us to bleed out on the ground."
Among the six videos the city released were two that were taken from the officer’s squad car dashcam and his bodycam. As the lawyers said, there is no footage of the actual shooting because although the shots can be heard in the dashcam video, the squad car wasn’t facing the right direction. As for the bodycam footage, the officer didn’t turn on his bodycam until seconds after the shooting.
The officer, who is Hispanic, could face charges once the state police finish their investigation. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI are also investigating.
Cunningham addressed the shortcomings of the videos, but he said in a statement that he felt it was necessary to release what he could.
"Again, we are all hurting as a result of this incident and while I intend to allow justice to run its course and not compromise the integrity of the process, I must balance that with my commitment to the families and the community to always maintain transparency," the mayor said. "I thank you for your trust, patience, and prayers.
Crawford reported from Des Plaines, Babwin reported from Chicago and White reported from Detroit.