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‘Shots were Illegal, Unnecessary’: Former Police Officer Charged with 2020 Fatal Shooting of a Black Teen In Illinois, Investigation Finds Cop Was Not In Danger

A grand jury has indicted a former suburban Chicago police officer for the fatal shooting of a Black teen and the injury of his girlfriend. It has taken almost two years for the cop to be charged by the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.

State Attorney Eric Rinehart charged Waukegan Police officer Dante Salinas with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 19-year-old Marcellis Stinnette, CBS Chicago reported.

Marcellis Stinnette. (Family Photo)

Stinnette’s girlfriend Tafara Williams was also allegedly injured as a result of Salinas’ conduct.

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, Stinnette was riding in the passenger seat with Williams when the two were pulled over by a different officer.

As that officer started to interrogate the couple, Williams panicked and drove off. The officer called for backup and Salinas answered the call.

In a statement, the LCSAO said while speeding off the young lady crashed the car. Williams was “in the process of reversing and attempting to leave the area as Officer Salinas exited his squad car. The car did not hit Salinas. While standing next to Ms. Williams’ vehicle and clear of its path, Officer Salinas fired several shots into the driver’s side of the vehicle as it continued to reverse past him.”

Reports say Salinas shot six times within 12 seconds of him approaching Williams’ car.

On Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, three days after the shooting, Salinas was fired from the Waukegan Police Department. The department cited multiple policy violations during the incident as grounds for his dismissal, including the officer’s failure to activate his bodycam until after the shooting.

Only then, on the footage after the shooting, he can be heard saying, “It backed up right at me; it was in between my squad car … I fired my weapon because I thought I was the next one run over.”

His patrol car’s dashboard camera captured parts of the incident, showing the officer following Williams’ car before the shooting, around the area the young woman crashed the car (near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. and Helmholz Avenues), according to Law & Crime.

Footage shows Salinas getting out of his squad car at the same time as the couple’s car starts to back up. Once he gets out, reports say he is no longer visible in that footage, making it unclear where he is or the location of Williams’ car before the shooting begins.

He yells on the video, “I was right behind you and you almost tried to run me over!”

An investigation, conducted by the Illinois State Police and an independent crime scene analyst, determined the officer was not in any danger when he shot the teen.

The prosecutor said, “Marcellis Stinnette was a passenger in Ms. Williams’ car and had committed no crimes.”

“Officer Salinas parked his car near and parallel to Ms. Williams’ vehicle. Officer Salinas exited his vehicle and crossed to a point in the middle of the road,” he said, “The car was in the process of reversing and attempting to leave the area as Officer Salinas exited his squad car.”

“The car did not hit Salinas. While standing next to Ms. Williams’ vehicle and clear of its path, Officer Salinas fired several shots into the driver’s side of the vehicle as it continued to reverse past him. Officer Salinas’ shots killed Marcellis Stinnette and injured the driver, Ms. Williams,” the prosecution continued.

Rinehart said the charges came “after months of investigation” by his team, and that his office hired a trajectory expert to break down the “Illinois State Police’s investigation and to fully explain the timeline of the incident, the location of Salinas, and the trajectory of his bullets.”

“Our forensic expert traveled to the area after the Illinois State Police completed their investigation and painstakingly studied the car, the intersection, the video footage, and the bullets themselves,” he said.

“His work was even more important because Officer Salinas did not turn on his body camera,” Rinehart continues. “We received the final report from our expert in July 2022. We presented that matter to the Grand Jury yesterday.”

Rinehart’s team determined, “These shots were illegal, unnecessary, and constitute second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.” 

Stinnette’s mother, Zharvellis Holmes, released a statement saying, the indictment has “been a long time coming.”

“My son, Marcellis Stinnette, was innocent, unarmed, and did nothing wrong. He did not deserve to be shot and killed by former Waukegan Police Officer Dante Salinas,” she said.

Sherrellis Stinnette, the grandmother of the deceased, said, “My grandson’s blood is crying out from the grave, ‘Grandma, we need justice!’ and we’re finally getting justice.”

After the investigation, it was determined that Williams and Stinnette had no weapon on them.

Salinas has also been indicted for using excessive force or harming a private citizen.

He was charged with one count of aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and two counts of official misconduct at a 2019 family baptism. There, he allegedly tasered, tackled, and punched Angel Salgado, breaking his eye socket, after a verbal exchange and arrest.

“Salinas had not received a complaint, nor did he witness Mr. Salgado breaking any laws at the time that he confronted Salgado,” prosecutors said.

“As Former Officer Salinas was driving, an exchange of words began between the two and Salinas stepped out of his vehicle, initially pulling his firearm, and then quickly switched to his taser,” the prosecution continued.

“Mr. Salgado after a brief continuation of the verbal exchange began to turn away from Salinas and enter a fenced-in area of his family’s house. Salinas followed him, deployed his taser, and eventually tackled and punched Salgado, breaking Mr. Salgado’s eye socket.”

“These two separate incidents demonstrate that Mr. Salinas has not lived up to the standards of his brother and sister officers,” Rinehart said. “Angel, Marcellis, and every resident of Lake County have the moral and legal right to be safe.”

According to his lawyer, Douglas Zeit, on Thursday, Sept. 22, Salinas turned himself in, entered a plea of not guilty, and will be attending a court hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

His bond was set for $350,000. He has met the bond and is now released.

Salinas was not the only one charged as a result of the 2020 altercation. Williams was charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding the cops. For this crime, she has pleaded not guilty.

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