Waukegan official can't confirm arrest warrant cited before fatal shooting

  • Marcellis Stinnette

    Marcellis Stinnette Courtesy of Clyde McLemore

  • This image of Tafara Williams, in the driver's seat, and Marcellis Stinnette, the passenger, was captured during their initial encounter with Waukegan police.

    This image of Tafara Williams, in the driver's seat, and Marcellis Stinnette, the passenger, was captured during their initial encounter with Waukegan police. Waukegan Police video

 
 
Updated 10/29/2020 7:04 PM

A day after releasing video footage of the deadly encounter between a police officer and a young Black couple, a city of Waukegan spokesman said he could not confirm the existence of the warrant an officer cited while trying to arrest Marcellis Stinnette the night he was killed.

During a traffic stop just before midnight Oct. 20, Waukegan officer James Keating, who was identified in a lawsuit filed late Wednesday by Stinnette's girlfriend, Tafara Williams, told Stinnette, 19, and Williams, 20, that Stinnette was under arrest. When pressed for an explanation by Williams, Keating said there was a warrant out for Stinnette.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rick Hammond, a lawyer with HeplerBroom LLC who is acting as a spokesman for Waukegan, said Thursday there was "allegedly" an outstanding arrest warrant for Stinnette the night he was shot. Hammond said he could not be more specific because only the Illinois State Police can confirm that information.

A representative of the Illinois State Police did not immediately reply to calls Thursday.

Hammond said an investigation into Keating's conduct was ongoing. He said he was not able to confirm whether the officer was on paid leave.

The exchange between Keating and the couple was part of six dashcam and bodycam videos released Wednesday by Waukegan officials. They offer a narrative of the initial stop, chase and fatal shooting, but there is no body camera footage taken from the second officer, identified in Williams' lawsuit as Dante Salinas, at the time he shot the couple.

After Keating told the couple that he was placing Stinnette under arrest, the videos released Wednesday show, Williams suddenly drove away. In the dashcam footage, both officers attempt to pull Williams over but she avoids them and drives down South Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The dashcam footage from Salinas' car shows her attempt to turn right onto Helmholz Avenue, then go off the road. Salinas, who is in close pursuit, stops next to where their car went off the road. Williams appears to be trying to reverse the car onto the road so she can continue driving.

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The video shows that in the span of five seconds, Salinas opens his door, shouts, "Get out of the car!" and fires seven shots at the car. Salinas and gunfire are heard off the camera's view.

The lawsuit disputes the contention Salinas feared for his life because the car was coming toward him and says a witness also disputes that version of events. It accuses Salinas of using excessive force when he fired at Williams and Stinnette, who were unarmed.

The lawsuit contends that Keating had no reason to confront the couple in the first place, as they sat in Williams' vehicle smoking and talking.

The lawsuit also contends that the city knew or should have known that the two officers had "dangerous propensities for abusing authority, making false arrests."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A call for comment made to Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham's office was not immediately returned Thursday. A man who answered Salinas' cellphone declined to comment. A number for Keating could not be located.

Attorneys on Wednesday alleged Salinas was lying when he said that Williams had tried to run him over.

Waukegan officials said Salinas was fired in part because he did not activate his body camera until after the shooting.

The lawsuit marks the first time the names of the officers were made public. A check of filings in the same federal court reveals that in August, a man suing Salinas alleged that the officer in 2019 struck him in the face with his gun, causing several broken bones and cuts.

In that lawsuit, Angel Salgado contends he was outside the house of his nephew for a baptism party when Salinas, who was on patrol, threatened him, pointed his weapon and "deployed his Taser." Salgado acknowledged that he resisted arrest and said in the suit that he has since pleaded guilty to that charge.

The Illinois State Police are handling the shooting investigation, while the Department of Justice has agreed to review the case. Their findings will be given to Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

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