The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force has concluded that Evanston police officers were legally justified in the shooting and killing of Desrick York, 32 years old, on April 26, Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington said during an hour and one-half question and answer session with the Evanston media on May 19.
“Any loss of life is tragic, especially so when there’s violence involved,” said Chief Eddington. “We want to extend our sympathies to the family of Mr. York, and hopefully bring some closure to the community in discussing this matter and attempting to make these extremely violent – and fortunately infrequent incidents – as clear as we can from a physiological and psychological perspective.”
Police Conclude Self-Defense
Commander Tom Guenther, public information officer for the Evanston Police Department, said police received numerous 911 calls on April 26 at about that a man was chasing another man with a knife at1810 Church St. Callers also reported the man was highly agitated and was confrontational with others at the site, he said.
The man with a knife, later identified as Mr. York, had a dispute over money with his landlord, said the Chief. Mr. York allegedly asked for his security deposit back, even though he had not vacated his apartment, and asked for compensation for doing work on some radiators. He chased the landlord and then the landlord’s assistant, who was the building’s handyman, with the knife, said the Chief.
Three officers arrived on the scene and were told one man was being assaulted by another man and were directed to the basement.
Police officers drew their service weapons and went down the stairs to the basement. Because the stairs were narrow, the officers went down one by one. The first two officers saw Mr. York with a knife standing over another man who was on the ground with his hands and feet up in a defensive posture. The knife was a pocket knife, with a four inch blade. When Mr. York saw the officers, he turned and advanced toward them, said Cmdr. Guenther.
The officers gave loud multiple verbal commands to drop the knife. Mr. York ignored the commands and proceeded toward the officers, said the Commander. The officers backed up against the basement wall. “Their backs were literally to the wall. They gave up as much distance as they could,” said the Chief. The officers gave additional commands to drop the knife, but Mr. York continued to advance toward the officers with the knife. He was close enough that one of the officers could reach out and touch him. The officers felt it was necessary to defend themselves, said the Commander.
“Fearing for their lives and in defense of others, the officers exercised a right of self-defense and began to fire,” said Cmdr. Guenther.
Chief Eddington said witnesses reported that Mr. York had been heavily drinking that morning and he was in a “state of rage.” A toxicology report is still not available. Mr. York’s actions were “out of bounds of what we would normally expect,” said the Chief.
Police fired a total of 11 shots, all of which hit Mr. York, said the Chief. One officer fired five shots, one fired four, and the third officer, coming down the stairs, fired two. After Mr. York went down, officers began to restrain him as necessary, and called for medical assistance. Medical personnel pronounced Mr. York dead on the scene, said Chief Eddington.
One of the bullets that struck Mr. York also truck one of the officer’s fingers. The officer underwent surgery and lost his finger, said the Chief. The Chief explained the officer had his hand outstretched to hold Mr. York at bay, and the bullet hit his finger before striking Mr. York. The Chief could not say how close the knife came to striking an officer.
Police Say Non-Deadly Force Not An Option
Chief Eddington and Cmdr. Guenther were asked many questions concerning whether non-deadly force could have been used and whether firing 11 shots was unreasonable.
Was drawing service weapons before going to the basement proper procedure? Cmdr. Guenther said drawing service weapons before going to the basement was appropriate because there were reports Mr. York had a knife and was assaulting someone. “When police get information that a person is aggressive and out-of-control and has possession of a knife, police would be in proper use of force to withdraw their weapons to respond to that threat.” He added, “The time in which it would take to draw a weapon could be life and death.”
Were batons, tasers or pepper spray an option? Evanston police are not given tasers, so that was not an option. The Chief said, “From the information I have, I don’t believe [batons or pepper spray] could have been deployed quickly enough or been effective in this situation.”
“There’s no absolute guarantee that pepper spray’s going to work every time, the Chief said. “When you’re in that close proximity, you don’t have the time or distance to hope that it works.”
He said, “Baton vs. knife – Frankly in this situation, it’s an unreasonable risk for the officers to take.” He said if an officer tried to defend himself with a baton under these circumstances, the officer would “get cut nine times out of ten times.” He added, “The police officer has no duty to receive a knife wound because the person won’t follow directions.”
Should the police have shot Mr. York in the arm or leg to disable him? Chief Eddington said the most skilled shooters, such as Navy S.E.A.L. teams, “don’t even train to shoot to disable; they don’t shoot to wound. Officers are employing force to stop the threat. They are trained to stop the threat. They are trained to shoot to hit center mass.”
Were 11 Shots Unreasonable? The Chief said the shots were fired in quick succession. He said witness statements that they heard three or four shots indicates the shots were heard on top of each other and were fired in rapid succession. He said it takes about one-quarter of a second to fire a shot from a drawn weapon. “We’re talking about total elapsed firing time of about three seconds or less.”
The Chief added, “I know it [11 shots] is off-putting. I know it’s disturbing. But if you look at national standards, it’s not outside the norm. ” He added that Mr. York was in a continuing state of rage and kept advancing on the officers “even after the shooting started.” He said, “Those officers are making decisions in a very tumultuous, hectic, fluid changing situation.”
Were the officers inexperienced? The Chief said the three officers had between two and five years experience. Two were white males, the third was an Hispanic male. “Regardless of the experience level of the officers,” he said, “I think we need to understand the situation the officers were propelled into, not of their own choosing….”
“At some point we need to come to grips with the actions of Mr. York. Had he just stood there, had he dropped the knife, had he done a myriad of things instead of continuing on in a style of rage…” the situation would have been different.
The Chief said he found two of the officers fit to return to duty. The third officer, who was shot in the confrontation, is on leave due to his injury. The Chief said in making his determination, he concluded the officers were legally justified in shooting Mr. York. He said the incident was still being reviewed by the Office of Professional Standards.
The Chief said he has received notice that the City will be sued in connection with the shooting of Mr. York.
Neighborhood Tension May Mount After State Police Report on Shooting
Uneasiness has permeated the area ofChurch Street just west of Dodge Avenue since Evanston police officers shot and killed Desrick York after being called to the scene by several reports of a man wielding a knife.
On May 19, Evanston police officials told representatives of the local media that the State Police Integrity Task Force found the shooting by all three police officers involved was “”legally justified.””
Aware that the finding that the shooting was legally justified could escalate tensions between some residents and the police, City and police officials are looking for ways to help abate some of the wariness, even distrust, that in some areas have existed for years and were exacerbated by the shooting.
“”We want to make the events as clear as we can,”” Police Chief Richard Eddington told a group of local media representatives, “”so people can understand the dynamics of close, violent personal encounters.””
By presenting as many of the facts as possible to the public, police say they hope they can begin to heal some of the wounds and unify the community against antisocial behavior – gangs, guns and illegal drugs – that they say infest portions of the neighborhood.
Some of the information provided, Chief Eddington and Cmdr. Guenther said, was to dispel some of the rumors that had surfaced since the shooting. Cmdr. Guenther said the dispute arose between Mr. York and his landlord, from whom Mr. York demanded a return of his security deposit, even though he continued to reside in the apartment.
He also said that several witnesses, including members of Mr. York’s family, said Mr. York had been drinking and was “”agitated”” and “”aggressive”” and appeared to be filled with “”rage.””
“”Viewed in their totality,”” Cmdr. Guenther said, “”the actions of the officers will become clear.”” Because Mr. York did not obey their increasingly loud verbal commands to put down his knife but instead continued to advance toward the police officers, Cmdr. Guenther said, the officers acted in self-defense.
“”The three officers made a decision about their own safety,”” Chief Eddington said. He also said, “”I’m terribly concerned that the catalyst was an argument over money.”” He added that he feared there could be more such disputes if the economic downturn continues.
Community and Police
“”I don’t expect people to be happy about this,”” Chief Eddington added. “”The number 11 [the number of bullets] is off-putting. But Mr. York continued to advance and as officers gave the command [to relinquish the knife] they backed up to the wall. As Mr. York aggressed, the [first two officers] began to fire and then the third officer began to fire. … The threat to police officers trumps [other considerations]. A police officer has no duty to receive a knife wound because a perpetrator would not obey a police officer. … At a certain point this outcome was inevitable, based on the action of Mr. York””
The police chief also said, “”The action of the aggressor determines the reaction of the police. … We have to come to an understanding of what the police are going to do [in such a situation].””
Distinguishing the shooting of Mr. York from complaints about police conduct, Chief Eddington said his department, and he personally, takes every complaint seriously. “”We will take all citizen complaints and investigate them. Standards of police conduct will be enforced on every officer.””
The multi-family house at1810 Church St., where Mr. York and his family resided, is in the Second Ward. Nonetheless Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes, as well as Second Ward Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, have worked to address neighborhood concerns.
Ald. Holmes told the RoundTable she was “”trying to keep the community informed, trying to let the neighbors know what happened.”” She added, “”It is a big thing, this interaction between the police and the community. Almost every day I see [in the police reports] that there was a shooting in the neighborhood [not by police]. The officers have to be sensitive, have to know how to deal with people. At the same time, I want the neighbors to know if there are shootings. I tell them, ‘You have to take your neighborhood back.'””