Lawsuit: Medical response took 8 minutes after man shot by Waukegan police

Madeline Buckley, Sarah Freishtat and Javonte Anderson, Chicago Tribune
·6 min read

The mother of a Black 19-year-old shot and killed by a Waukegan police officer filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against two officers and the city of Waukegan alleging that the shooting was not justified and that Marcellis Stinnette did not get medical attention for 8 minutes after he was shot.

Zharvellis Holmes filed the suit on behalf of her son, and names two officers and Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles. Stinnette was killed Tuesday after officer Dante Salinas fired shots into a car, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. The suit also alleges that officer James Keating was the first police officer that encountered Stinnette the night of the shooting.

Tafara Williams, Stinnette’s girlfriend and mother of his infant son, also was wounded in the shooting and filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Waukegan, Salinas and Keating.

Waukegan police have not identified the officers involved and Walles referred comment to attorney Rick Hammond, who said he had not had sufficient time to review the complaint Thursday afternoon. The officer who shot at the couple was fired late Friday.

Salinas and Keating could not be reached for comment.

A review of complaints against police officers in several suburban communities, obtained over the summer, shows between 2018 and June neither Salinas nor Keating had complaints filed against them relating to use of force, but the plaintiff’s attorney, Kevin O’Connor, said he had previously filed another federal suit naming Salinas.

That lawsuit, filed in August, alleges Salinas used excessive force during an incident at a baptism party. The lawsuit states Salinas “drew his weapon and threatened” a man then used a Taser on him and “initiated a physical altercation following its deployment.” The man resisted arrest and additional officers were called, and after he was brought into compliance Salinas “struck the plaintiff in the face with the butt of his weapon,” the lawsuit states. The man pleaded guilty to misdemeanor arrest in the incident, the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit filed Thursday, Stinnette was a passenger in a car with Williams and parked outside Williams' home with the lights on. Around 11:55 p.m., Keating approached the car and began to question Williams and Stinnette, the complaint said, alleging that he did not have “reasonable suspicion” to detain either of them.

Keating demanded their names, but gave no reason for his approach, the suit said. The officer directed questions at Stinnette, asking, "Aren’t you the dude that got in the accident? You got in an accident, right? What’s yo name? Huh?” The suit notes that Stinnette was in a car accident in August which limited his ability to move.

Body camera footage shows Keating tell Stinnette: “You’re Marcellis right? Yeah, You’re under arrest man,” according to the suit.

Williams asked the officer why Stinnette was under arrest, and Keating replied, “Because I said so.”

Stinnette also asked the officer why he was under arrest, the suit said, referencing body camera footage.

Keating tells Stinnette: “Show me your hands pal. C’mon, I ain’t playin’ with you cause I know you. Marcellis you’re under arrest.” According to the lawsuit, Stinnette’s hands were visible.

Williams then pulled away from the curb and drove away from the officer, according to the suit. The suit alleges that Keating “falsely reports” that the car ran him over.

Williams tried to make a right turn, but her car struck an electric pole, the suit said.

At that time, Salinas, who had followed Williams, left his vehicle with his weapon drawn, according to the lawsuit. He did not turn on his body camera.

Meanwhile, Williams began to back up her vehicle to return to the road, the suit said. Waukegan police previously said the officer began shooting when the car starting backing up. But the complaint alleges that “at no time was (Williams) driving in the direction” of Salinas.

Salinas then fired five times into the car, “despite being in no immediate danger,” the complaint said.

“At no point did ... Tafara Williams' vehicle strike any police vehicles or persons, but did strike a small building on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Helmholz Avenue,” the complaint said.

The complaint alleges that neither officer “had any information that any violent crime had been committed and/or that they or any other individuals were in danger of death or serious bodily harm.”

After the shooting, Williams cried for help, saying both she and Stinnette had been shot, but the suit alleges that neither officer responded to help them.

Salinas turned on his body camera after the fact and yelled, “I was right behind you and you almost tried to run me over,” according to the complaint.

Williams screamed, “He got shot, he got shot, he needs help,” the suit said, alleging that Stinnette received no medical attention for eight minutes while he waited for an ambulance.

Police have said no weapons were found in the vehicle.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Stinnette’s father, Selvin Holmes, said his son wanted to inspire his younger siblings and led them with his good values.

“My son had a dream,” he said. “He wanted to grow up be a productive citizen.”

While announcing the lawsuit, O’Connor pledged to work to reform policing policies in Waukegan and around the country.

“They are not going to throw blood money at this family,” O’Connor said. “We’re going to make a change. We’re going to end this now.”

The Waukegan Police Department historically has been troubled by scandals, investigative failures and lawsuits alleging abuse.

A 2015 Tribune investigation found that no city police department in Illinois at that point, other than Chicago’s, shared responsibility for as many wrongful convictions as the Waukegan police, who had helped send six men to prison before they were cleared. Those cases drove the department’s problem with lawsuits, accounting for the bulk of the $26.1 million the city or its insurers paid out in police cases between 2006 and April 2015. That was vastly more than local towns with larger police departments.

Following the Tribune story, officials from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations service agreed to intervene in the city in hopes of improving relations between residents and the police. The next year, the city reached a non-binding agreement that committed the department to increasing diversity in its ranks, updating its use-of-force policy and giving officers cultural awareness and sensitivity training.

Tribune reporter Dan Hinkel contributed.

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