Lake County authorties seek federal oversight of police-involved shooting investigation

Federal authorities will monitor and review the investigation into the April 4 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Justus Howell by a Zion police officer.

The announcement Friday by Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim came the day before a scheduled march and rally protesting the shooting death of the Waukegan teen. Justus' funeral was Friday.

"We invited them (FBI) to be part of the investigation in the name of transparency," said Cynthia Vargas, a spokeswoman for Nerheim. "Their eyes and expertise can only benefit this investigation."

The Lake County Major Crimes Task Force has been interviewing witnesses, collecting evidence and reviewing video, and contacted the FBI early in the investigation, Nerheim said in a statement.

"We have requested that the FBI monitor and review this investigation. They have agreed to do so," he said.

Nerheim said other agencies have been contacted to enhance the "captured video technology" and analyze the events surrounding the shooting.

Vargas declined to identify those agencies.

"We just want to make sure our Ts are crossed and Is are dotted because of the sensitivity of this investigation," she said. No findings are expected to be released for a week or longer, she added.

Howell was fatally wounded by a Zion police officer who has been identified only as a nine-year veteran of the force. The teen was shot twice in the back, according to Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd.

Police have said Howell was involved in a scuffle while trying to steal a handgun during a street sale. Authorities said Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst, intended to sell a gun to Howell near Gilead Avenue in Zion, but a fight between Howell and Peet broke out during the exchange and a shot was fired.

A neighbor who heard the gunshot and witnessed the fighting called police, authorities said. When officers arrived on the scene, Howell ran and was shot sometime later.

Peet was charged with two counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Nerheim said he is focused on ensuring a "complete, detailed and fully transparent" investigation. He cautioned that some public statements have been based "purely on speculation with absolutely no basis in fact," and said uninformed opinion can inflame the situation.

For example, Vargas said a gun was found at the scene and was recovered by law enforcement officials, contrary to some reports.

"Our priority is keeping the public informed while respecting the grief of the family," she said. "It's a tough situation for everyone. That's why we're trying to be as transparent as possible - we just want everyone to keep the peace."

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