An Illinois high school freshman in suburban Chicago claims that police offered him food from a fast-food restaurant in exchange for a confession to a crime he did not do. Despite being wrongfully incarcerated for two nights in a jail cell, the boy’s social media and basketball schedule were used as evidence that he did not commit the felony.
Officers arrested Martell Williams during class at Waukegan High School after he was allegedly identified by multiple people as the robber that shot a dollar store clerk in the face on the 2600 block of Grand Avenue on Feb. 4.
A week before his arrest, the Waukegan Police Department had released images of the suspect, pulled from a surveillance camera, and asked for members of the community to help officers bring him in.
Believing he was the shooter, detectives apprehended Williams at school and brought him into custody.
“I was in school in freshman seminar class, and the dean came down and got me and walked me to the office,” the 15-year-old said.
“And once I reached the office, there were just two police officers there. As soon as I got in, they didn’t tell me nothing or say anything. They just said I was under arrest.”
Once the officers had him in custody, they began exhorting the young man to admit to the crimes and told him he could have a meal from McDonald’s and go home if he confessed to the shooting. So Williams said he confessed.
Shanika Williams, the teen’s mother, said when she went to the police station, they would not let her see her child. And like that he was charged with the crime.
The teen was locked away for two nights in the Robert W. Depke Juvenile Complex Center in Vernon Hills before his community was able to learn the charges and provide evidence of his innocence to the department. Friends and family were able to prove that he could not have been at the scene of the shooting.
The family now has an attorney, Kevin O’Connor, and has asked for a public apology for their “lazy police work.”
The Lake & McHenry Scanner reports that the Waukegan Deputy Police Chief Joe Florip confirmed detectives verified that at the time of the shooting Williams, who plays on the Waukegan High School’s basketball team, was at an away game at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, over 17 miles from the scene of the crime.
Also, social media helped establish his whereabouts. A screenshot from Snapchat showed him at the game at the time of the shooting.
A statement from Waukegan Interim Police Chief Keith Zupec read in part:
“Martell Williams did not commit this crime, nor was he involved in this crime in any fashion, and he should not have been brought to the juvenile detention facility. Martell should not have remained in that detention facility for a day and a half.
“The Waukegan Police Department apologizes for the pain and disruption our actions have caused Mr. Williams, his family, and the community. I will be reviewing this case with my staff, the Mayor, and the Lake County State’s Attorney to understand how we got this far.
“My heartfelt apology goes out to this young man and his family. I will make it my purpose to not allow this organization to let him, his family, or Waukegan down again.”
O’Connor and the family met with the Waukegan Police Department Wednesday, Feb. 23.
“What’s the saddest part of all this?” O’Connor said at an earlier press conference. “While he’s being arrested, the person who did (the shooting) is free to go and harm other people, because they didn’t do the basic detective work of figuring out where he was at the time it happened.”
O’Connor criticized the interrogation tactic, saying the video was too much for Williams’ mother to watch.
“It was horrible, it was horrible to watch. His mom was so disturbed she had to leave the room.”
On Thursday, Feb. 24, the town’s mayor also weighed in on the mistaken identity, saying she was “saddened and disappointed.”
Ann B. Taylor said in a statement: “As Mayor of Waukegan, as a mother, and as a lifelong Waukeganite, I am very saddened and disappointed with how the Martell Williams case unfolded in our City. I only can imagine the pain and anguish this situation has caused Martell, his mother, and the Williams family.
“While Martell has been cleared of all charges, I firmly believe that we as a City must do a better job when dealing with juveniles when they interact with our Police Department,” the mayor continued. “When I ran for Mayor, I focused on ensuring that everyone in Waukegan is treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, in Martell’s case, the City missed this mark.”
She further noted that as a commitment to protect “juvenile suspects,” she will work with the Lake County State’s Attorney to bring in outside parties in, if necessary, to review the police force’s practices and policies.
There were two victims in this case. In addition to Williams, 19-year-old Elvis Ramos was shot in the face at the dollar store, and he is undergoing surgery to save his vision in one eye. A GoFundMe has been set up for his medical bills, therapy, at-home care, and miscellaneous expenses.
His sister Crystal Padilla wrote on the fundraiser, “God saved his life and we are now here to help him live the best version of it he can. Thank you.”
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