Billboard in Elgin asks for 'justice' in fatal police shooting

A group of activists in Elgin is behind a billboard asking for justice for Decynthia Clements, the 34-year-old woman killed by police more than a year ago.

The billboard, which says "Not in Vain, 3-12-18, Justice for Decynthia," is a way to express support for the Clements family and the black community, said resident Gena McNamara, who spearheaded the recent effort to install it along Crystal Avenue near Highland Avenue.

"I wanted them to know that they weren't alone. That people cared," she said.

The billboard also is a message to city leaders that Lt. Christian Jensen, who has been on paid leave since he fatally shot Clements, should be terminated, McNamara said.

In February, after the Cook County state's attorney's office cleared Jensen of wrongdoing, the city hired a Chicago firm to conduct an investigation into whether he violated any police department policies or procedures on the use of force.

The billboard cost between $500 and $1,000, McNamara said. Nearly half the funds came from membership dues for the group Community Advocates of Elgin, to which McNamara belongs. The group was created after Clements' shooting, and its members are trained by the police department to assist people who want to file complaints against officers.

The rest of the funding came individually from McNamara and from Corey Battles and Jose Bosque - the group's president and vice president, respectively - and three others, McNamara said.

"There is a lot of community support for this," she said. "So many people said, 'Thank you so much.'"

Resident Jodi Perkins is among those who believe Jensen was justified in shooting Clements, pointing to the state's attorney's decision. The activists are "a very, very small group" in the city of about 112,000 residents, Perkins said.

"That billboard was a total waste of money. This isn't an issue in the community. No one is talking about it," she said.

The activists are pushing the city to create a civilian body to review residents' complaints against police. Mayor David Kaptain said he'd initially planned to discuss the topic with the city council Wednesday but now plans to do that sometime next month. Perkins told the city council last week that Elgin doesn't need that, pointing to the department's track record regarding complaints and use of force.

Officers reported using or showing force in 0.14% of about 85,550 calls for service - including those that were officer-initiated - and 2.9% of nearly 3,300 arrests in 2018. Last year, there were 12 resident complaints against police, two involving use of force. In both cases the officers were exonerated after review of body camera video.

"From a police standpoint, the argument against a civilian police board is that their rulings are unfair because it is operated by individuals unfamiliar with police work," Perkins said.

McNamara disagreed, saying officers too often are cleared of wrongdoing. "I understand we don't know everything (about police procedures), but I understand that if we don't have another voice in the room, what's going to happen is always the same," she said.

Among those who contributed to the billboard is Paul Scott of Bloomingdale, a member of the regional NAACP chapter and the Chicago nonprofit Unity Partnership, which promotes better relations between law enforcement and the community.

Scott praised Elgin police's community outreach efforts and said Clements' death should push the department to improve its approach to mental health, race and bias policies. "I feel it would be a shame if this young lady's death would be in vain," he said.

The majority of Elgin officers have gone through crisis intervention training, designed to help respond to calls involving mental health issues, and the rest are expected to be trained by this summer, Police Chief Ana Lalley said. The department started a collaborative crisis services unit in March and plans to give officers a training on emotional intelligence this year.

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Decynthia Clements
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