CHICAGO — Chicago’s top cop said Thursday one of his officers was seriously beaten at an accident scene because the national focus on police shootings has caused officers to second-guess themselves.
Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the patrol officer told him she did not use her gun to defend herself for fear of a backlash. "She didn’t want her family or the department to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news," he said.
The injured officer, a 17-year Chicago police veteran, got into a struggle with a man who allegedly was high on PCP after she stopped at a crash scene in the Austin community on the West Side on Wednesday morning.
The suspect smashed the officer's face into the pavement repeatedly until she was unconscious, police said.
“As I was at the hospital last night, visiting with her, she looked at me and said she thought she was gonna die, and she knew that she should shoot this guy, but she chose not to because she didn’t want her family or the department to go through the scrutiny the next day on national news,” Johnson said while attending a public ceremony honoring heroic officers and firefighters.
“This officer could (have) lost her life last night," the superintendent said. "She’s hospitalized right now, but she still has the spirit and the bravery that these officers and firefighters display every day — every day. We have to change the narrative of the law enforcement across this country.”
The U.S. Justice Department launched a probe of the department after video was released of police shooting a teenager walking away from them with a knife, with complaints about the department’s treatment of citizens going back years.
The head of the Chicago Police Department's largest union said Thursday that Johnson's comments echo what he's been saying for months. Police “don't want to become the next YouTube video,” said Dean Angelo, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “If you participate in a deadly force situation you can save your life, but in 2016, you can lose your job,” he said.
Civil rights activists, however, have argued that police already lost community trust after decades of abuse.
“Any fair-minded person acknowledges that police have a very difficult and dangerous job, and this sounds like a very unfortunate situation,” Jon Loevy, a civil rights lawyer, said. “The hope is that the department and the community can work to repair some of the lost trust so that officers won't always feel so second-guessed.”
The 43-year-old Austin District officer was one of three hospitalized after struggling with the man near Roosevelt Road and Cicero Avenue about 10 a.m., according to police. The 28-year-old man had been in a car involved in the crash, police said.
Officers had seen a car crash into a building and saw the man walking east on Roosevelt, away from the crash, according to a statement released by police. When the officers tried to talk to him about the crash, the man began struggling with them, hitting the female officer's head against the pavement until she lost consciousness, police said.
The officer’s partner hit the man with a Taser and pepper spray, and he was arrested. Two other officers were injured arresting the man. All three officers were taken to Lutheran General. The man arrested was treated at Loretto Hospital.
In his remarks, Johnson said the attack went on “for several minutes.”
“Just yesterday, we had an incident where officers responded to a simple traffic accident,” Johnson said during the ceremony. “Traffic accident — now I want you to think about this for a moment. Responded to a traffic accident to render aid wherever they could. A subject who was under the influence of PCP attacked a female officer, viciously pounded her head into the street as her partner tried to get him off of her. And this attack went on for several minutes.”
Asked whether the incident was an example of officers “laying back," Johnson said “it’s an example of how dangerous this job is. And because of the scrutiny going on nationwide, there (are) officers second-guessing themselves. That’s what we don’t want.”
Johnson said he didn’t know all the details of the attack and so couldn’t say for certain if shooting the man would have been justified.
“I think it’s pretty apparent that it was a horrific incident. ... Anytime you face a life-or-death situation, then you can use deadly force, because that’s what he was trying to do to her.”
Charges are pending against the man accused of attacking the officers, police said Thursday afternoon. He has three prior firearms arrests and one conviction, as well as four arrests, following which he was charged with either resisting police, fleeing and eluding police or both, according to police.
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