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Ronald Johnson's Family Sues CPD, Accuses Police of Cover-Up

By Kelly Bauer | December 7, 2015 4:03pm
 Dorothy Holmes holds a photo of her son Ronald
Dorothy Holmes holds a photo of her son Ronald "Ronnie" Johnson, who was shot by police in 2014.
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CHICAGO — Shortly after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez released dashcam footage of the police-involved shooting of Ronald Johnson and announced she would not press charges against the police officer who fatally shot the 25-year-old, Johnson's family announced plans to sue the police department.

The family and its attorney, Michael Oppenheimer, said there has been a "cover-up" around Johnson's death and heavily criticized Alvarez and the Independent Police Review Authority. They have filed federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuits, and want Alvarez to reconsider charging the officer who shot Johnson, Oppenheimer said. He also called on the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved.

RELATED: Laquan McDonald Video Sparks Federal Probe Into Chicago Police Use of Force

"Anita Alvarez does not indict police officers," Oppenheimer said. "There is no doubt there has been a cover-up."

Oppenheimer said officers who were at the scene told attorneys they watched a dashcam video of the incident on a "big screen" at the station before writing their statements about what went down, which he believes is against protocol. He angrily called the police station a "movie theater" and wondered if officers ate popcorn while trying to get their stories straight. 

"And then they gave their statements," he said, adding that police accounts of Johnson turning and pointing a gun at police before being shot were debunked by the video. 

Alvarez said Johnson had a gun and was running from police when he was shot twice by an officer, but claimed he was running toward a public park and other officers.  

Oppenheimer accused Alvarez of relying on IPRA for her investigation into the death, despite the agency's recent and widely publicized woes. 

In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said independent investigations like those led by IPRA are "crucial," but questioned existing Chicago policies on police using force.

“A life was lost here, and that is a tragedy that can’t be taken lightly no matter the circumstances. That’s why independent investigations are so crucial in these cases," he said. "Now, as our Independent Police Review Authority resumes its investigation to determine whether the shooting was consistent with CPD’s policy, we must also ask ourselves if the existing policies on the use of deadly force are the right ones and if the training we provide to officers to make split-second decisions in life or death situations is sufficient.”

Oppenheimer cited interviews his office has conducted with witnesses and research, and questioned whether evidence had been destroyed in the case.

He claimed important witnesses, including officers who were present at the shooting, have not been subpoenaed or interviewed by investigators, Oppenheimer said. He claimed George Hernandez, the officer who fatally shot Johnson, has not given a statement to Alvarez's office or IPRA. Documents from Alvarez's office note that Hernandez did make a statement, but they did not specify which agency he spoke to.

Oppenheimer and Johnson's mother, Dorothy Holmes, also questioned if the gun police said was found in Johnson's hand was his, with both claiming it was planted.

"No ballistics ever proved that, that gun was his," Oppenheimer said. "There is no proof, there is nothing to tie Ronald Johnson to anything."

Hours earlier, Alvarez said DNA found on the gun belonged to Johnson, but Oppenheimer said DNA was only found on the hammer of the gun in the form of Johnson's blood. Holmes said police may have rubbed Johnson's blood on the gun after his death and questioned how it would have gotten on the gun before then since Johnson was shot in his head. 

"He wasn't raised that way, to carry no gun," Holmes said of her son.

Oppenheimer also criticized a statement from Hernandez, saying it sounds like it came from detectives — "the people who are in charge of covering up what really happened." 

In the end, Oppenheimer said Johnson was "murdered" and said it's "nonsense" that police shot him because he could be a threat to the public because there were not many people around.

"He had no right to shoot Ronald Johnson in the back," Oppenheimer said. "This was a coverup from the beginning. ... It started at the scene."

Holmes said she wants Hernandez to be charged with murder.

And of Alvarez, Holmes said: "I hope one day she feels the pain that I feel."