The city's police oversight agency has found that a Chicago police sergeant unjustifiably used deadly force when he shot an unarmed teen with mental disabilities in an off-duty incident in 2017.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability concluded that Sgt. Khalil Muhammad acted in an "objectively unreasonable" fashion yet initially recommended only a suspension of 90 days without pay.
The proposed punishment drew outrage from the teen's lawyer, as well as from an attorney for another Chicago police sergeant who alleged in a lawsuit last week that he was "dumped" from the detective bureau after refusing to list Muhammad on police reports as the victim in the incident.
The attorney for Ricardo "Ricky" Hayes, the 18-year-old wounded in the 2017 shooting, questioned how COPA could find Muhammad at fault in the shooting but stop short of firing him.
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"This is incredibly troubling," said Gabriel Hardy, who represents Hayes in a pending federal lawsuit against the city and Muhammad.
Attorney Torreya Hamilton, who represents Sgt. Isaac Lambert in the separate whistleblower lawsuit against the city, agreed that the recommended punishment fell short.
"I don't want this guy on the street with a gun, because he shot at Ricardo Hayes for no reason," she said.
Lambert's suit alleges that video from a home security camera shows that Hayes – described in court records as having "profound intellectual and development disabilities" – never did anything to threaten Muhammad or give him any reason to open fire. At Area South detective headquarters the night of the shooting, Muhammad wasn't able to give "a coherent or believable explanation" for shooting Hayes, the suit also alleges.
COPA completed its investigation of Hayes' shooting in September. Since then, after consulting with police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, the agency agreed that Muhammad's punishment should be doubled to six months without pay, COPA spokesman Ephraim Eaddy told the Chicago Tribune after its story was posted online Monday afternoon. No charges have yet been filed before the Chicago Police Board, which would decide Muhammad's punishment.
Muhammad could not be reached for comment Monday, but in court papers he has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the shooting.
COPA's 30-page investigative report, obtained by the Tribune in a public records request, said Muhammad had ended his late-night patrol shift in the Calumet District later than usual on Aug. 13, 2017. As he neared home in the Morgan Park neighborhood, he said he saw a suspicious black male by his next-door neighbor's car shortly after 5 a.m., COPA said. Muhammad said he recalled that an officer who lived nearby had a gun and wallet stolen.
Muhammad, dressed in civilian clothes, told investigators in his initial interview more than a month after the incident that he identified himself as a police officer and asked the person what he was doing but that the male said something and ran off. After making a U-turn, Muhammad said he again announced his office to the male and said, "Let me see your hands," the report said.
Muhammad told COPA that the individual turned toward him, reached back with his right hand and started to pull a dark object out of his waistband – actions, he said, that were "consistent with someone pulling a weapon."
Still sitting in the driver's seat of his girlfriend's SUV, Muhammad said he feared for his life and fired his 15-shot Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistol twice.
Shortly after the shooting, a neighbor found a black cellphone near where Hayes had been standing.
Hayes suffered a through-and-through wound to his left armpit and a graze wound to his upper left arm. He was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and released after treatment.
Muhammad later told investigators that Hayes also had taken several steps toward him at the same time as he reached back and pulled out the dark object, according to COPA's report.
COPA found that a preponderance of the evidence – meaning it was more likely than not – showed that Muhammad's decision to open fire was "objectively unreasonable" and that an officer "with similar training and experience" would not have found that Hayes posed an immediate threat.
To back up its decision, COPA concluded that:
– Muhammad, clad in a hoodie, could not reasonably expect Hayes to obey his oral commands because he was not obviously a law enforcement officer.
– Muhammad had no reason to believe Hayes had committed a crime, let alone a violent one, or to believe he was armed and dangerous.
– Hayes posed no immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm to Muhammad.
"Deadly force was not reasonably necessary because Sergeant Muhammad could have simply driven away from the potential threat," said the COPA report, completed in September. "This would have created time and distance for Sergeant Muhammad to reassess the situation and to determine whether (Hayes) was in fact an actual threat."
Faced with a much tougher standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – the Cook County state's attorney's office declined to bring criminal charges against Muhammad.
In a statement issued to the Tribune, the office said a review of the evidence determined that it was "reasonable" for Muhammad to believe the dark object displayed by Hayes was a gun.
In finding that Muhammad acted unreasonably, COPA said it gave little weight to Hayes' account of what happened, noting that his foster mother told investigators he has been diagnosed with mild mental retardation and autism spectrum disorder, among other things, and that his memory was not reliable.
Fire Department personnel who were the first on the scene told COPA investigators that Hayes kept repeating that he didn't know why he was shot because he was just reaching for his phone.
The report also revealed that shortly before the shooting, on-duty officers had spotted a black male – believed to be Hayes – running, stopping to look at their squad car and then continuing to run.
Officer Anthony Hobbs told COPA investigators that he did not stop Hayes because "at the moment he really hadn't done anything."