Witnesses to the Tuesday night police shooting in Waukegan, Illinois, that left an unarmed Black teenager dead and his girlfriend wounded, have offered an account of the incident that challenges the police narrative of the encounter.
Marcellis Stinnette, 19, was in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s vehicle Tuesday night when he was fatally shot by a Waukegan police officer. Tafara Williams, the mother of Stinnette’s child, and driver of the vehicle, was wounded when she was struck by the officer’s gunfire, and remains hospitalized in serious condition.
The police encounter began on Oct. 20 when an officer noticed a suspicious vehicle stopped on a street in the Chicago suburb. While the officer was investigating, the car sped away and was spotted minutes later by another officer near Martin Luther King Jr. and South avenues.
“That officer exited his vehicle, and the vehicle that he was investigating began to reverse towards the officer. The officer then pulled out his duty weapon and fired into the vehicle,” Waukegan Police Commander Edgar Navarro said on Wednesday.
Chicago station ABC7 reports that Williams’ family says she was shot in the stomach and hand, which makes it unclear how she’d be hit by gunfire in the stomach if the officer fired as the car was reversing toward him.
Police said the officer, who has served with the department for five years, is Hispanic. His name has not be released. Stinnette died at the hospital. It is not clear why the vehicle was initially stopped. There were no weapons in the car. Both officers are on leave.
Lake County Black Lives Matter founder Clyde McLemore told the Daily Herald that Williams and a witness have claimed the officer rammed his patrol car into the vehicle and started shooting.
“There was no weapon, no threat,” said Satrese Stallworth, a relative of Stinnette. “Why release a round of bullets into the car and take his life? He was the passenger. He wasn’t the driver.” Stallworth also said the family has heard accounts of the events that assert that the vehicle was allowed to leave the encounter with the first officer and did not flee.
The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force is investigating the incident and have received body camera and squad car footage. Findings will be turned over to Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim. “I will make a determination regarding whether the officers violated any laws. Should it be determined the officers violated a law, they will be criminally charged,” Nerheim said.
Cliftina Johnson said that when she visited her daughter in the hospital, she told her: “Mama, they just shot us for nothing.” Williams, who is in her 20s, is expected to recover.
A protest on Thursday was peaceful, as demonstrators marched to police headquarters demanding justice for Stinnette and Williams.