CHICAGO – A Chicago police officer responding to a domestic disturbance call accidentally shot and killed a 55-year-old woman, who was among two people fatally wounded by police gunfire, according to officials with the department that’s already facing intense scrutiny.
Relatives said Bettie Jones lived downstairs from Quintonio LeGrier, the 19-year-old who prompted the initial call to police and who also was killed about 4:25 a.m. Saturday in a West Side neighbourhood.
Officers who responded to the call “were confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharging of the officer’s weapon,” the Chicago Police Department said in a brief statement late Saturday.
“The 55-year-old female victim was accidentally struck and tragically killed,” reads the statement, which extends “deepest condolences to the victim’s family and friends.”
The Cook County medical examiner’s office and family members said Jones, a mother of five who had hosted family for Christmas, and LeGrier, a college student home for holiday break, were pronounced dead at hospitals. Both Jones and LeGrier were black, the medical examiner’s office said.
Police did not immediately disclose the race of the officer, saying in a statement only that officers involved in the incident will be placed on administrative duties for 30 days while “training and fitness for duty requirements can be conducted.” It isn’t clear how many officers responded, how many used their firearms and how many times both LeGrier and Jones were struck.
The shooting comes amid ongoing scrutiny of police across the U.S. after a series of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of officers gave rise to the Black Lives Matter protest movement. The Chicago Police Department also is under a federal civil rights investigation that will look into patterns of racial disparity in the use of force, how the department disciplines officers and handles misconduct accusations.
That investigation was launched after last month’s release of police dashboard camera video showing white officer Jason Van Dyke shooting black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014. The video’s release has led to protests, the forced resignation of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and calls from residents for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down. It is not clear whether there are any video recordings of Saturday’s shootings.
A prayer vigil in honour of Jones is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the site of the shootings.
“This family is absolutely devastated,” the Rev. Marshall E. Hatch of a neighbourhood church said in a statement early Sunday, adding that the shooting showed how “deeply dysfunctional the relationship is between this department and its citizens.”
“We need relief in Chicago,” Hatch said.
LeGrier’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times he had invited his son to a family holiday gathering before the shooting but the younger man chose not to go. Antonio LeGrier said when he returned to his second-floor apartment early Saturday, his son appeared to be a “little agitated.”
When police arrived, Antonio LeGrier said he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, Whoa Whoa!” He said he heard gunshots as he made his way down from the second floor and then saw his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
“I identified myself as the father and I held my hands out,” he said.
Jones’ daughter, Latisha Jones, told the Sun-Times she woke up when she heard gunshots. She said she walked to the front door and saw her mother bleeding on the ground.
Antonio LeGrier said his son had emotional problems after spending most of his childhood in foster care, but that it didn’t warrant him being shot and killed.
The father said police told him that Quintonio was shot seven times and had called police before he did.
He said his son, who he described as a “whiz kid” was home on his holiday break from Northern Illinois University, where he majored in electrical engineering technology.
Quintonio graduated last year from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago.
The elder LeGrier said he heard loud banging on his locked bedroom door around 4:15 a.m. and that his son said, “You’re not going to scare me.” He said his son tried to bust the door open, but he kept him from doing so and called police. The father told the newspaper that he called Jones, who lived a floor below, and warned her that his son was a “little irate” and not to open the door unless police arrived. He said Jones told him she saw his son outside with a baseball bat.
When police arrived, Antonio LeGrier said he heard Jones yell, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He said he heard gunshots as he made his way down from the second floor and saw his son and Jones lying in the foyer.
Jones’ daughter, Latisha Jones, told the Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune that she woke up when she heard gunshots, walked to the front door and saw her mother bleeding on the ground.
Chicago police referred The Associated Press’ requests for additional comment to the Independent Police Review Authority, the city’s main police oversight agency. IPRA spokesman Larry Merritt said it was “very early on in the investigation” and couldn’t release further details Saturday. It isn’t known when the medical examiner’s office will do autopsies, which would determine how many times LeGrier and Jones were shot.
Antonio LeGrier told the Sun-Times that his son had emotional problems after spending most of his childhood in foster care. LeGrier said his son was home on break from Northern Illinois University, where he majored in electrical engineering technology.
LeGrier’s mother, Janet Cooksey, told the Chicago Tribune that police didn’t have to react the way they did.
“We’re thinking the police are going to service us, take him to the hospital. They took his life,” said Cooksey, who was not present at the time of the shooting. She said she wants a personal apology from Emanuel.
Emanuel’s office issued a statement late Saturday that said the IPRA was investigating and would share its evidence with the county prosecutor’s office.
“Anytime an officer uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city,” Emanuel said in the statement.
Bettie Jones’ brother, Melvin Jones, told the Tribune that his sister celebrated “an excellent” Christmas at her apartment Friday with about 15 other relatives. He said she lived there with her boyfriend and was the mother of four daughters and a son.
“There are so many questions and no answers,” Melvin Jones said. “I’m numb right now. Right now there’s a whole lot of anger, a whole lot of tears. … I don’t have time to feel. I have a funeral to prepare.”
WATCH: Chicago police department being investigated for ‘use of force, racial disparity’