Elgin chief to crowd: Come at cop with a knife, 'you're probably getting shot'
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More than 50 people gathered Tuesday outside Elgin's police headquarters to demand answers in the police shooting of an Elgin woman the day before.
Police Chief Jeff Swoboda came out to meet the group, which included relatives of Decynthia Clements, and took questions during an exchange that was loud at times but mostly civil, with some occasionally heckling in the background.
"I don't have all the answers right now," Swoboda told the crowd.
But the crowd persisted, wanting to know why Clements had to be shot and killed by police early Monday along the Addams Tollway near Elgin.
Police said Clements had a knife and that Lt. Christian Jensen shot her after an hourlong standoff, when police attempted to pull her out of her sport utility vehicle after a fire started inside the vehicle. The Cook County medical examiner's office Tuesday ruled Clements' death a homicide due to multiple gunshot wounds.
Clements was a small woman and officers should have been able to subdue her without using lethal force, many residents said.
"Use a Taser, rubber bullets, a long stick -- whatever you had to use," local activist Corey Battles said. "That's my issue. That's the community's issue."
"How can you have all this training, and you cannot take down one woman with a knife without killing?" another woman said.
Officers cannot be expected to wrestle knives away, Swoboda said. "You come at a police officer with a knife, you're probably getting shot," he said.
The shooting sparked calls from members of the black community to conduct an independent investigation into Clements' death. Battles was among those who organized the "show of solidarity" for Clements' family.
The community doesn't trust the investigation being in the hands of Illinois State Police, Battles said. Illinois law doesn't allow police departments to conduct their own investigations into fatal officer-involved shootings, Swoboda said, so Elgin requested the state police to investigate, as most local departments do.
"We are asking for accountability," Battles said. He and others want Elgin to create a commission with civilian members to reviews police shootings, he said.
Clements' brother, Chevelle Clements, said the rally "is going to get the point across."
He and other relatives declined to answer further questions. The family hired the Chicago law firm Romanucci & Blandin to represent them, Clements said. An attorney with the firm declined to comment Tuesday.
Swoboda disclosed a few more details Tuesday about the shooting, including that Clements had exited the car when she was shot, that "the fire was lit from inside the car," and police believe a stun gun also was deployed. He said he plans to release body-camera video and is consulting with state police about a time frame.
Jensen, a 19-year-veteran of the police department, was put on administrative leave while the investigation is underway, which is protocol after a police officer discharges a firearm. Jensen has never had any sustained allegations of excessive use of force, and this was the first time he discharged his weapon, Swoboda said.
The black community also believes Clements' race is a factor in how things played out, Battles said. "It seems like when it comes to African-Americans, it seems that more white police are intimidated or afraid."
Swoboda said the police department strives to listen to every resident complaint, is proactive about community outreach and recently went through training regarding implicit bias and procedural justice.
"Help us become better," he said. "It starts with me."
Activist Marcus Banner said Swoboda has had a good reputation for years, but the community questions the events that lead to Clements' death.
"No matter what she did or might have did, did her life deserve to be over?" Banner asked.
Pastor Walter Blalark of Living Gospel Church said there are lots of unresolved questions about Decynthia Clements' death.
"Did she have an accident? Was she hurt? Did she have a concussion? Or was anything wrong with her mentally?" Blalark said.
Swoboda said officers attempted a traffic stop, started chasing her vehicle when she fled and eventually abandoned pursuit. Shortly afterward, they found her vehicle on the tollway with fresh signs of damage to the exterior and tires, he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Swoboda posted a video on Facebook encouraging anyone with questions about the shooting to come talk to him and members of the command staff. Battles was one of two residents who showed up and met privately with Swoboda before the rally.
The other was resident Eric Rubin, who said footage from body cameras worn by officers "is going to be a very helpful element for the truth to come out -- whatever happened."
About 95 percent of Elgin police officers are equipped with body cameras. Swoboda said he's reviewed some of the footage and didn't know if Jensen wore a camera.