Chicago police on Sunday released a snippet of video of a fatal police shooting less than a day after it sparked violent clashes between officers and protesters on the South Side.
The footage, taken from an officer’s body-worn camera, appears to show Harith Augustus, 37, a barber, break away from officers and move his hand toward his waistband. He was shot dead in the street by police.
The video, however, runs less than a minute and does not include sound, so it is unclear what exchanges occurred between Augustus and officers in the seconds before the shooting.
At a news conference Sunday afternoon at police headquarters, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he released the video so swiftly in hopes of avoiding a repeat of violent clashes Saturday night between baton-wielding officers and protesters, some of whom lobbed bottles at officers, in the South Shore neighborhood where the shooting took place.
“In this particular instance after seeing what transpired last night, I have an obligation to this city, to the community and to these police officers to make sure this city is safe and calm,” Johnson told reporters. “And last night after what I saw on video, you know, bottles being thrown, urine being thrown at the police officers, we can’t have another night like that.”
Johnson said the investigation into the shooting remained open, with “tons” of other video still being reviewed.
Chief police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said a probationary officer with less than two years on the job fatally shot Augustus in the 2000 block of East 71st Street near the barbershop where he worked. The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police contract prohibits police from identifying the officer.
Court records show that Augustus had three minor arrests from more than a decade ago and that all three charges were eventually dropped by Cook County prosecutors.
By 6 p.m. Sunday, at least 200 people, many of them demonstrators, gathered at the Jeffery Plaza, decrying the shooting in spite of the release of the video by police. Activist William Calloway and the relatives of several men fatally shot by police in the past spoke out against police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel before the group marched north on Jeffery Boulevard.
A line of officers blocked the demonstrators from heading north of 67th Street near an entrance to Lake Shore Drive, turning them west and then south on Stony Island. Despite some angry shouting, including chants of “murderers,” the protest remained peaceful as of Sunday evening.
Making even part of video evidence public in less than 24 hours marked the quickest the Police Department has moved to share images of a fatal police shooting since the city was forced by court order to release the video of the Laquan McDonald shooting in 2015, a year after the incident occurred. The black teen was shot 16 times by a white officer.
Before McDonald’s fatal shooting, the city did not regularly release video of incidents at all.
In February 2016, the city’s Police Accountability Task Force announced that audio and video recordings would be released within 60 days of a shooting or in-custody death. Law enforcement agencies can seek a 30-day delay in the release.
Video, audio and police reports are now regularly released on the website of the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates all shootings by Chicago police officers.
The footage released Sunday from one officer on the scene shows three other officers approaching Augustus on Saturday night.
One officer appears to take a nonaggressive position, pointing in the direction of Augustus’ holstered gun while apparently talking to him.
One of two officers who came up behind Augustus grabs his wrist. Augustus can be seen pulling away. It is then that a still image appears to show the gun in its holster on his waist. Augustus then runs away, spinning around off balance.
While the video appears to answer one question — that Augustus was armed — the decisions of the officers in how they approached him will no doubt be part of a COPA review that will likely take months. The Police Department also created a force review team that would look for potential policy or training issues to correct as a result of the shooting.
In a brief statement Sunday, COPA said a weapon had been recovered at the shooting scene.
Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor and frequent critic of the Police Department, applauded the decision to so quickly release the video, saying it was “absolutely the right thing” to do. But he cautioned against drawing any firm conclusions, since such a brief section was made public.
“At least the small clip that I have seen far from answers all the questions about whether it was justified or whether policies, tactics need to be revised or whether training is appropriate,” said the police accountability expert.
Futterman also thinks the department should consider releasing video of all police shootings within 24 to 48 hours — the “point at which public interest is most acute,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said Sunday that autopsy results showed Augustus died of multiple gunshot wounds. The autopsy did not specify how many times he was shot or where on his body.
The office ruled the shooting a homicide — not an indication of wrongdoing by police.
In addressing reporters, Johnson nodded at reform as the department has pledged to correct years of widespread department failings that were documented by the U.S. Department of Justice in a scathing report released early last year. It concluded that the department had engaged in civil rights violations against African-Americans and Hispanics, and failed to properly investigate or punish officers for misconduct. The report found that trust with the community was broken and that the department was also failing its officers with inadequate and shoddy training practices.
“If we expect neighborhoods to partner with the police, then the police have to do our part to be transparent without adversely affecting the integrity of the investigation,” Johnson said.
The superintendent said he moved so quickly to release the video in part because of erroneous details — most notably that Augustus wasn’t carrying a gun — that spread through social media and on the street after the shooting happened.
Johnson said he spoke with Augustus’ family before releasing the body camera video.
“To the family of Mr. Augustus, I offer you my sincerest condolences for your loss, especially as a parent, as a father,” he told reporters. “To the officers involved, I know this is hard on you all, and you have my word that we’ll ensure as a department that you all get the necessary support and mentoring you need through this difficult situation.”
Augustus’ family and friends remembered a quiet man who worked at the barbershop.
“He keeps to himself. He don’t bother nobody,” said co-worker Antoine Howell, 42, who was still in the barbershop when he heard the gunshots.
As Augustus gave him a haircut earlier Saturday, Howell said he encouraged Augustus to come to a bachelor party that night. He said Augustus smiled but said he had to pass.
Augustus would only talk to customers at the shop if he had to, Howell said. But Howell said he drew out the quiet Augustus to the point that the two often talked and laughed about sports, especially basketball.
“He was so quiet, and I opened him up,” Howell said. “And everybody at the shop was like, ‘How did you do that?’ ”
Howell said memorials are being planned at the barbershop and the scene of the shooting.
Augustus, of the 7000 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood, was pronounced dead at Jackson Park Hospital at 5:50 p.m. Saturday, according to the medical examiner’s office.
Late Saturday, before the release of the video, Guglielmi said Augustus was shot after patrol officers on foot saw a man who was “exhibiting characteristics of an armed person.”
“He looked like he may have something on him,” Guglielmi said. “They go to question him, and at that point, a confrontation ensues and he is shot.’’
During a noontime news conference Sunday outside police headquarters, Calloway, the community activist, said he had already filed a Freedom of Information Act request with authorities seeking footage from body cameras, dashboard cameras and police surveillance cameras that might have captured Saturday’s shooting.
“This department is not fixed,” he said. “This department is racist … unconstitutional, and we’re tired of it.”
The shooting Saturday only heightened tensions being rubbed raw by fear that Officer Jason Van Dyke will be acquitted of Laquan McDonald’s murder in his upcoming trial, Calloway said.
“These tensions in the black community are flaring up, and we are going to see more of that,” he said.
As is routine, the officer who fired will be placed on 30-day desk duty while COPA investigates.
Chicago Tribune’s Annie Sweeney, Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas and Hannah Leone contributed.
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