An unarmed 13-year-old is paralyzed after being shot by Chicago police. His lawyers contend his hands were up
By Omar Jimenez and Bill Kirkos, CNN
(CNN) -- An investigation is underway after a 13-year-old boy was shot by a Chicago Police Department officer, according to the city's Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
The teen's lawyers, and witnesses, contend his hands were up when police opened fire. He is now paralyzed from being shot in the back, the attorneys said.
The officer, identified by his attorney as Noah Ball, believed the suspect was pointing a weapon -- that turned out to be a cell phone -- and made a split-second decision to shoot, his lawyer told CNN.
As an independent police oversight office investigates the incident, new body camera video obtained exclusively by CNN shows the frantic final moments that led up to the shooting and what immediately followed.
In the footage, taken the night of May 18, an officer jumps out of his car to chase a 13-year-old who had bailed out of a suspected stolen vehicle and ran past him. Other officers are also in pursuit, including Ball, who according to his attorney had seen the vehicle hours earlier driving straight at his car.
Officers chase the teen to a nearby west side Chicago Marathon gas station, and one officer fires three shots, audio from the police body cameras shows.
One body camera video shows the 13-year-old at the end of the chase, slowing down, turning and appearing to raise his hands as he is shot.
He was unarmed. The teenager's attorneys told CNN he was trying to surrender. The officer's attorney said Ball mistook a large cell phone -- which he said the 13-year-old was holding -- for a gun and made a split-second decision.
Scenes from various officers' body cameras show officers reacting to the shooting. One goes to the ground and says, "Jesus f**king Christ, dude." He later approaches the teen and asks, "Was anyone hit?" then notices the injured teen and says, "He's hit? Dammit, get an ambulance."
Ball's body camera wasn't turned on at the time of the shooting, and it didn't activate until roughly 40 seconds after the shooting is over.
Shortly after his camera came on, Ball is heard asking another officer, "Is your camera on?" and when that officer replies yes, he says, "Okay good."
Ball's attorney, Timothy Grace, told CNN his client's body camera was off inadvertently, but attorneys for the teen said it was inexcusable.
"The suggestion that 'Hey, maybe this was just a temporary absentmindedness because he was involved in a pursuit,' first of all, they're trained," Steven Hart, one of the attorneys representing the teen's family, told CNN. "They have forethought. They know they're supposed to engage their cameras and it's up to them to do it. No one else can do it."
Only a cell phone and puddle of blood were left on the ground shortly after the incident, when two officers lifted the 13-year-old by his sweatshirt and legs and carried him away from the gas pump where he fell wounded.
The teen's attorneys said it was a clear example of how the teen was viewed by police. "They drag him with no regard for this young man, pull him like a rag doll away from the pump to another area after he had already sustained a major injury to his back," Andrew M. Stroth, one of the teen's attorneys, told CNN.
Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown told reporters the day after the shooting, "They moved the young man away from what might have been combustible gas pumps based on the firing being in that direction of the gas pumps."
'His hands are up'
According to the Chicago Police Department, the 13-year-old was a passenger in a suspected stolen car. When officers tried to stop the car, he jumped out and started running, police said.
Brown told reporters the car's license was identified by a plate reader and then a police helicopter began following the car and broadcasting the location.
Not long after, police descended on the location and the foot chase began. It was over in seconds.
"His hands are up, there was no justification for the officer to shoot," Stroth told CNN.
Some people on the scene that night appeared to agree.
"He had his f**king hands up!" one bystander is heard yelling on an officer's body camera.
Another witness, who only chose to go by "Anthony," told CNN-affiliate WLS, "His hands was up and I seen the cop run up to that boy and just start shooting that boy did not have no gun or nothing."
But Ball's attorney is looking less at where the hands were and more at what his client thought was in them.
"Drop the gun!" is heard on an officer's body camera. "Show us your f**king hands!" and, "He has a f**king gun!" are heard yelled after the gunshots.
Ball's attorney wrote to CNN in part, "You can hear Officer Ball yell that he has a gun." Ball believed "the object being pointed at him was a firearm. That dark object in his hand being pointed at officers was not a firearm but in actuality a large cell phone," Grace wrote.
He added, "Officer Ball had to make a split-second decision as he had no cover and no concealment. He discharged his service weapon to stop the threat."
The 13-year-old's attorneys disputed there was anything in his hands at all and argued there's no definitive video to prove it.
They also said he was trying to surrender and that the pursuit shouldn't have happened in the first place.
"If all you need is to have someone flee from the police to justify a shooting, we've got real problems in this city and in this country," Hart told CNN.
Stroth added, "There's been no charges against him, he was in a stolen vehicle and he ran away. He ran away. And does that warrant being shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down?"
Ball, was stripped of his police powers two days after the shooting, pending the outcome of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigation.
Would new foot pursuit policy have avoided shooting?
In June, the Chicago Police Department released its long-awaited new policy on foot pursuits, almost a month after the shooting of this 13-year-old, and more than a year after the shootings and killings of 22-year-old Anthony Alvarez and 13-year-old Adam Toledo during foot pursuits.
It does not go into effect until late August.
The new policy states that officers can only engage in a foot pursuit if there "is a valid law enforcement need to detain the person" that outweighs the dangers of the pursuit.
Other factors in determining whether to initiate a chase include: containment of the area, saturation of law enforcement in the area, helicopter unit support, and more.
"When determining the most appropriate tactical option, the safety of Department members, members of the public, and any person being pursued is the primary consideration," the new policy reads.
The policy also states, "Deciding to initiate or continue a Foot Pursuit is a decision that a Department member must make quickly and under unpredictable and dynamic circumstances. It is recognized that Foot Pursuits may place Department members and the public at significant risk."
Alexandra Block, an attorney with the ACLU of Illinois, says language in the new policy does not go far enough.
"There's so much weaselly language about how officers should you know, consider the totality of the circumstances or consider alternatives to chasing people, but there aren't enough black and white rules that officers must follow," Block told CNN.
"And so you get officers in the split-second decision-making circumstances where if they haven't been trained on either yes chase somebody, or don't chase somebody under a circumstance, they are likely to make a wrong decision."
The teen's family has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department.
"He can't walk, he can't get up, he can't go to the bathroom, he can't get his own food, I mean his life is changed forever," Stroth told CNN.
Hart added, "It's just not our 13-year-old client. He's at the end of a long list of largely minorities who have been shot, either maimed seriously, or killed by the Chicago Police Department."
"They're supposed to value the sanctity of human life. There was no value here. They didn't value this 13-year-old's life," he said.
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