EPD: Lethal shots were ‘legally justified’

Brian Rosenthal

State authorities have determined that Evanston officers were “legally justified” in fatally shooting a knife-wielding man 10 times last month, city police announced in a meeting with local media Tuesday morning.

Two officers involved in the shooting of 32-year-old Desrick York have returned to duty, while a third is still recovering after losing a finger in the altercation, Evanston Police Department Chief Richard Eddington told seven members of the media crowded around a table in his office.

Of the 11 shots fired in the April 26 incident, 10 struck York while the final one hit an officer’s ring finger as he was attempting to push York away, Eddington said.

“I realize the number 11 is off-putting,” he said. “(But) in police shootings nationally, this number of rounds is not outrageous.”

He added that it takes just one-quarter of a second to discharge a round and that the shots came from three different sources, in quick succession and in the midst of an “adrenaline dump.”

According to witnesses, York had been drinking alcohol throughout the weekend and was probably also high on cannabis at the time of the incident, the chief said. Results of toxicology tests are not yet available.

Police are preparing for a civil lawsuit after receiving word from a local attorney that one would be filed, Eddington said.

The shooting occurred after the three officers responded to a landlord-tenant dispute at 1810 Church St., a little more than a mile from campus and a block away from Evanston Township High School.

The tenant, York, was armed with a four-inch folding pocket knife and had apparently threatened others in the building, EPD Cmdr. Tom Guenther said Tuesday. When police arrived, he was in the basement, knife in hand, standing over another man, Guenther said. He ignored verbal commands to drop the knife and advanced toward the officers.

Once York got “close enough that one officer could push him away,” the officers opened fire, Guenther said. The first officer fired five shots, the second fired four and the third fired two.

EPD officers do not use tasers but do sometimes deploy billy clubs or pepper spray. In this case, none of those weapons would have been appropriate, Eddington said.

He also dismissed the idea that officers could have shot the knife out of York’s hand.

“(Western movie star) Tom Mix could do it, but he’s the last one I know of that could,” he said.

York was pronounced dead at the scene. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office later determined he died of multiple gunshot wounds, but the number of shots fired was not available until Tuesday.

Some residents, especially in the black community, initially expressed concern that the situation may have constituted an inappropriate use of force. At Tuesday’s meeting, some members of the media told police those concerns still linger.

The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit investigated the incident and determined the actions of each officer were legally justified, Eddington said.

The official results of the report will be released today, although the text of the report will not be available.

The three male officers, two white and one Hispanic, each had between two and five years of experience on the force, Eddington said. They were put on routine administrative leave after the incident, and the two healthy officers were declared “fit for duty.”

April’s shooting was the third instance of police firing their guns in the past year – an extremely high number, the chief said Tuesday. The average number of bullets an officer fires is one for every 20 or 30 years of duty, according to Northwestern political science Prof. Mark Iris, and in the decade before the incident, nobody had been killed in an armed confrontation with Evanston officers.

“We’ve been extremely lucky in preceding years,” Eddington said. “The actions of the offender dictate our response.”

Tuesday’s meeting, which Eddington called an “unprecedented step,” was meant to reveal the facts surrounding the controversial incident, show that police are taking it seriously and “begin the healing process,” the chief said.

“Any loss of life is tragic, especially when there’s violence involved,” Eddington said. “This outcome was unavoidable based on the actions of Mr. York.”

He added that he plans to attend a Fifth Ward meeting Thursday and expects to address resident concerns about the incident.

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Related:EPD’s use of deadly force is ruled homicide 4/30/09Investigation begins after Sunday slaying 4/28/09After dispute, police shoot, kill man 1 mile from campus 4/27/09