State police report: Elgin officer said he 'could not wait' for Taser, had to shoot Decynthia Clements
Elgin police Lt. Chris Jensen told investigators deadly force was the only option when he fatally shot a woman armed with two knives because he and other officers were so close "he could not wait to determine if the Taser would be effective."
Jensen told a supervisor he and the others "did everything they could" to avoid shooting 34-year-old Decynthia Clements on March 12, 2018. The supervisor, Sgt. Jim Lalley, who had assumed command after the shooting, said "he assured Jensen that he did everything right."
But Clements' father, Charles Clements, on Tuesday questioned why police couldn't rely on Tasers. "Supposedly, that works to get a person down. That's not an excuse to me. She was 90 pounds and they shot three shots, two to her head and one to her chest. I don't know how you can look at it very different."
The officers' descriptions are part of a 300-page investigative report done by the Illinois State Police and released Tuesday by the Cook County state's attorney's office. The Daily Herald submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the report Feb. 25, after the state's attorney's office announced it would not pursue criminal charges against Jensen. The delay in release was due to a backlog, officials said.
Similar FOIA requests were submitted to state police, which haven't released the report, and Elgin police, which denied the request citing an ongoing investigation by a firm hired by the city.
Mayor David Kaptain, who said he hasn't seen the report, and Police Chief Ana Lalley declined to comment on it, citing the investigation. Jensen did not return a request for comment.
State police's public integrity task force interviewed Jensen a week after the shooting in the presence of two attorneys hired by the city. Another 14 officers were interviewed, including some who were on duty that night but did not respond to the call, plus Hoffman Estates paramedics, Elgin firefighters and a 72-year-old Elgin man who had a phone conversation with Clements the day before she was shot.
The man told investigators Clements called asking for $20 because she was low on gas, but he didn't have it. The next morning, he found out from TV news reports that she'd been fatally shot, he said.
Clements was shot after an early morning standoff lasting about an hour and 10 minutes while she was stopped along the center shoulder on westbound I-90. After she moved the 2003 Buick Rendezvous forward a few times, police pinned it between two squad cars.
Within five minutes, Clements started a fire inside the SUV, and less than two minutes later she lay dead on the ground, shot three times by Jensen and with a Taser by another officer, the report shows.
Clements at one point held a knife to her throat, and officers moved in closer to try to get her out of the burning vehicle. Clements opened the door and "lunged" at Jensen with a knife, the report says. Jensen said she had a knife in each hand, and two kitchen knives later were found at the scene.
"She was so angry it appeared she wanted to kill the EPD officers that were attempting to rescue her from the burning vehicle," officer Matthew Joniak told investigators.
Hoffman Estates Fire Department paramedics said they got a call at 2:03 a.m. about a suicidal person and heard about the fire while en route. By the time they arrived 10 minute later, Clements had been shot.
According to the logs, police reported fire in the vehicle at 2:05 a.m. and reported shots fired one minute and 27 seconds later.
Joniak was the first to make contact at 12:35 a.m. with Clements for a "suspicious vehicle check" of the SUV at the dead end of Cedar Avenue. He asked Clements what she was doing and she responded that "she met her husband who was a deputy sheriff and gave her some money," he said.
The officer said Clements gave him her name and date of birth, but she had slurred speech and he "had a feeling something was not right with the situation."
As another officer arrived for assistance, Clements drove off and Joniak followed her "in order to find probable cause to effect a traffic stop," he said. Clements came to a complete stop at the first stop sign but drove through the second one, so he activated his lights. When Clements drove onto the I-90 eastbound ramp, he was told to end the pursuit.
Joniak turned around and spotted Clements' SUV stopped by the center median on I-90, west of Route 59.
Jensen said he was doing paperwork at his desk. When Joniak reported Clements brandished a knife, Jensen told him to "back off" and drove to the scene. Officers then became aware Clements had a prior "suicidal subject" contact with police.
Jensen described erratic behavior by Clements -- chewing her gums, bobbing her head back and forth, talking to herself -- and said "he could tell" she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. An autopsy report showed Clements had cocaine in her system.
Jensen said when he saw smoke and flames, he grabbed a 40 mm "nonlethal" weapon and contemplated breaking the rear window, but didn't know if Clements was strapped in by a seat belt.
Jensen, who was holding a shield, said he assigned one officer to his right to hold a Taser and two more to act as "hands," or arresting officers. He told investigators his intention "was to open the door and stand by, not wrestle or fight."
As the officers moved in, exhorting Clements to get out of the car, Jensen said he "could feel the heat from the fire and was concerned of an explosion along with the safety of the officers and Clements."
Clements "would end up burning alive inside her vehicle if they did not act and act quickly, to physically extricate her," Joniak said.
Jensen said he's been on multiple SWAT calls where Tasers were ineffective, prongs didn't make contact or the officer missed.
The officers were six to eight feet away from Clements, with the median behind them and squad cars blocking Clements' SUV, "so essentially they had nowhere to go" and "did not have time to go over the median wall and escape the danger without being stabbed," Jensen said.