Justified: Video Vindicates Chicago PD Officers in Shooting at Paul O’Neal
Justified: Video Vindicates Chicago PD Officers in Shooting at Paul O’Neal.
The footage of Chicago PD shooting Paul O’Neal has just been released by Chicago Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA.) The video sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the officer-involved shooting. Three officers in-total shot at O’Neal, but the officer who fired the fatal shots did so where other officers could not see him, and that did not have a body camera activated. It appears that the officer did not do anything to interfere with the camera, and they are investigating if it malfunctioned.
All three officers who fired shots have been stripped of their police authority and placed on leave.
The video starts out with officers chasing after a stolen Jaguar.
First Shots Fired at Paul O’Neal
Officers stopped their patrol car as the stolen vehicle came towards them. We can see that Paul O’Neal attempted to run over one of the officers, who barely escaped with his life.
Once Paul O’Neal attempted to run over the officer, the officers had probable cause to believe that O’Neal posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officers and others. If O’Neal was willing to run over an officer, then by allowing him to escape, officers would have allowed him to severely injure or kill other officers or citizens in the area. These officers had a duty to stop O’Neal, and they used the only reasonably effective tool that they had to stop him, their guns. Given the circumstances, it was legal and reasonable for officers to fire at O’Neal as he was fleeing (Tennessee v Garner.)
When officers have to shoot at somebody who is fleeing, they should give a verbal warning to the suspect, if feasible. A verbal warning in this situation would not have been feasible, because O’Neal would not have heard officers, and they could not risk a delay in action while they waited for O’Neal to respond.
While it was legal for officers to shoot at the vehicle, it may have violated department policy. Many departments have a policy that suggests that officers do not fire at a moving vehicle. However, Chicago PD’s policy is very specific about prohibiting shootings in this circumstance:
Firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person is prohibited.
This policy ignores the threat posed by people who are in control of a vehicle. If officers in Nice, France had to follow this policy in the terrorist attack last month, they would have been unable to use force against the terrorist until he had started shooting at people. In situations like these, officers are forced to decide if the threat to lives is more important than their department’s policy.
While shooting at a moving vehicle is generally a bad idea, there are circumstances that allow for it, and most policies are less strict than Chicago PD’s policy on this matter. While it appears that the shots fired by the first two officers were legally justified, it was likely in violation of Chicago PD policy, which leaves the officers open to severe disciplinary action.
Final Shots Fired at Paul O’Neal
Once Paul O’Neal’s vehicle had passed the first two officers, O’Neal used his car to ram a second patrol car as the first officers shot at O’Neal. This meant that the first two officers had rounds flying towards the second officers. While the first officers should have ideally been aware of the oncoming police car, they likely didn’t see it due to tunnel-vision.
When anybody is placed into a high stress situation, tunnel-vision is a normal biological response. It is not the fault of these officers that they experienced tunnel-vision after somebody just tried to kill one of them. We expect internet tough-guys to disagree, but almost every other person would have been experiencing the same thing in this situation.
The responding officers possibly believed that O’Neal was shooting at them due to the bullets that were flying their way.
Paul O’Neal ran from the stolen vehicle and fled behind a house. Officers chased him and then one officer fired a fatal shot into O’Neal’s back. We don’t have any video from that officer due to an unknown issue with the camera.
To put this in context, the officer who fired the fatal shot at Paul O’Neal was chasing a suspect who just attempted to murder another officer, and the officer reasonably believed that O’Neal had shot at him. Even if O’Neal had not shot at the officers, we can only judge the officers based on their reasonable perception at the time of the incident. Another reasonable officer in the same situation would likely have believed that O’Neal was shooting at them.
It was legally justified for the officer to use deadly force to stop O’Neal before he killed somebody. If the officer shot O’Neal to stop his escape, he should have given a verbal warning to O’Neal prior to the shooting. Unfortunately, we don’t have the video from this officer to determine if he did so.
If the officer fired at Paul O’Neal to prevent him from accessing a house where he could endanger the lives of people inside, then no verbal warning would have been needed because O’Neal was posing an immediate threat and needed to be stopped immediately.
After the shooting, officers can be heard talking about how they believe that O’Neal shot at them. No weapon was ever recovered from O’Neal and it appears that he did not shoot at the officers, but their belief that he had shot at them was reasonable.
It’s not clear what policy was violated by the officer who fired the fatal shot. The investigation is still ongoing, but it’s worth noting that the policy pertaining to shooting at a moving vehicle did not apply once O’Neal’s vehicle was stopped.
Again, the policy states: Firing at or into a moving vehicle when the vehicle is the only force used against the sworn member or another person is prohibited. Per this policy, once O’Neal was no longer in a moving vehicle, he could be shot at like any other fleeing attempted murder suspect, and it wouldn’t violate that policy.
Chicago PD has declined to comment on what policy was violated by that officer.
It appears that the shooting of Paul O’Neal was legally justified by all officers involved, but we find it likely that at least two of the officers violated Chicago PD policy. These officers had to make a choice if the threat to public safety was more important than the threat to their careers by violating policy, and they made the decision to protect the public and other officers.