Man fatally shot by Illinois police ‘still breathing’ when covered by blanket, girlfriend says
In an emotional statement from her hospital bed, Tafara Williams, the survivor of an October 20 police shooting in Waukegan, Illinois, said officers shot her boyfriend, Marcellis Stinnette, and covered him with a blanket while he was still alive.
“They laid Marcellis on the ground and covered him up with a blanket while he was still breathing,” Williams, 20, said tearfully from her hospital bed. “I know he was still alive.”
In their description of the incident last week, the Waukegan Police Department confirmed that Stinnette was transported alive to the hospital, where he later died.
Appearing remotely via Zoom at a press conference Tuesday hosted by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and co-counsel Antonio M. Romanucci, Williams’ recollection seemed to contradict the Waukegan Police Department’s description of the incident as a traffic stop gone wrong.
On the night of Tuesday October 20, when Stinnette was shot and killed, Williams said she and her partner were sitting in their parked car to smoke shortly after having put their baby to bed.
“An officer arrived and pulled up behind my parked car. He didn’t turn on his lights or sirens,” Williams recalled.
She said she threw on all the cabin lights so the officer, who walked up to the driver’s seat where she was sitting, could see that she had “no weapons” and “wasn’t doing anything illegal.”
Williams said that the officer called out Stinnette by name and asked if she was named Tafara, and indicated he knew her by saying that she was Stinnette’s “baby mama.”
“Then he started harassing Marcellis, he stood near the car with his left hand on the gun and he said to Marcellis, ‘I know you from jail,'” Williams recalled.
Williams said she asked if they were free to leave or if they were under arrest. She said that as the officer stepped away from her car to make a cell phone call, she began to drive away.
“I drove away very slowly because I was scared to get out of the car. I drove out to MLK and turned onto it, the officer was not following me, the police lights were not on, when I turned onto MLK it seemed like there was another officer there waiting for us,” she said.
“There was a crash and I lost control, the officer was shooting at us, the car ended up slamming into a building, I kept screaming, ‘I don’t have a gun!,’ but he kept shooting,” Williams said.
“He told me to get out of the car. I had my hands up and I couldn’t move because I had been shot,” Williams said between sobs. “Marcellis had his hands up. I kept asking him why why he was shooting.”
Williams said more officers arrived with their guns trained on the couple.
“They wouldn’t give us an ambulance until we got out of the car; when I moved, blood seemed to pour out of my body,” she said.
“I can hear Marcellis still breathing, I told them, ‘Please don’t shoot, I have a baby, we have a baby, we don’t wanna die,'” she recalled. “An officer dragged me away from Marcellis. I begged him to take him first because he had just got surgery not too long ago. They ignored me.
“They laid Marcellis on the ground and covered him up with a blanket while he was still breathing. I know he was still alive,” Williams said through sobs. “They wanted us to bleed out on the ground.”
And then Williams was overcome with emotion and said “please take me off,” and the video was cut.
An initial police statement released the morning after incident said an officer “was investigating an occupied vehicle,” and the car fled. A second officer spotted the vehicle in a nearby area, the statement said, and as the second officer got out of his vehicle the car began to move in reverse and the officer fired “in fear of his safety.”
No weapons were found in the car, police said. Neither officer has been identified.
The officer who shot at the vehicle was fired for committing “multiple policy and procedure violations” during the incident, Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles announced over the weekend. The officer was terminated shortly after Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim announced that the FBI will assist the Illinois State Police in an independent investigation of the shooting.
At the Tuesday press conference, attorneys Crump and Romanucci praised Waukegan Mayor Bill Cunningham for “transparency” in his handling of the case.
Crump and Romanucci said, compared to the response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin — a short distance over the state line — Waukegan officials moved quickly to discipline the officer and to start the process of releasing the body-cam footage, which Crump said is “imminent.”
But in both Wisconsin and Illinois, Crump said, police officers failed to deescalate.
“It’s almost as if you shoot first and you ask questions later, and that seems to be the connection between these two tragedies,” Crump said.
The attorneys called for a criminal investigation into the officer’s actions and promised to pursue a civil lawsuit that will not only seek monetary damages but also injunctive relief in the form of policy changes, with an emphasis on deescalation training.
Other family members spoke emotionally about the impact the shooting had already taken on them.
“Tafara is my child, my only baby,” mother Tina Johnson said, describing her as “the strongest person I’ve ever met.”
“I am asking you to pray for her and my grandson Marcellis Stinnette, Jr.,” she said. “If America doesn’t stop this disease of violence, this could be anyone’s child.”
“Something was amiss, and obviously we are very anxious to see the video,” Romanucci said. “Whatever tactics this officer used must have clearly been against policy, not only against policy but against morality and against humanity for anything to have taken place so quickly.”
Crump said: “They didn’t fire him because he did the right thing, they fired him because he did something wrong.”