What Elgin police video shows: Woman shot as she leaves vehicle, knife in hand
Elgin police video in the fatal shooting of Decynthia Clements shows her holding a knife as she exits a vehicle full of fire and smoke and gets shot.
Police created a 21-minute version of about 30 hours of footage taken March 12 from police body cameras and squad cars that show Clements, 34, of Elgin, not getting out of her car on the far left emergency westbound lane on the Jane Addams Tollway despite repeated requests from police officers.
When the first officer approaches her, Clements appears agitated while she smokes a cigarette and then lights another one, but it's unclear what she's saying with the window rolled up.
The officer backs off and several others join him, and they stay away from the vehicle as they can be heard saying she had a knife by her side and a history of being suicidal. One officer at one point says she had a knife at her neck.
When heavy smoke starts pouring from the vehicle, officers -- after discussing their approach and what they would do in various scenarios -- move toward it. Clements can be heard making sounds, possibly gagging or screaming. The car door opens, she comes out with the knife in her left hand, and she is shot simultaneously by a gun and a Taser.
Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said Clements was holding two knives, one in each hand, but the second knife isn't visible in the video released.
The Clements family's attorney, Antonio M. Romanucci, said the video "raises questions about the unnecessary use of deadly force" by Lt. Christian Jensen, who police said fired three shots. "We clearly believe that the killing of Decynthia Clements was unjustified."
Police said others were equipped with shields, pepper balls and rubber bullets.
If a crisis intervention team would have been on scene, Romanucci said, the situation might have been handled more appropriately, and Clements' life might have been saved.
"This situation did not have to escalate to such a degree that cost a young woman her life. As we move forward with this lawsuit, those responsible for Decynthia's death must be held accountable."
Swoboda pointed to police closing down the tollway in both directions and officers attempted to coax her out of the car for more than an hour. A sergeant on the scene had extensive experience supervising the hostage negotiation team, he said.
Family members had complained that police had not called them in an effort to quell the situation. But officers can be heard in the video saying they called "numbers associated with Clements" and left messages to try to reach relatives. No one answered the phone, Swoboda said.
"Steps were being taken all the way to have a successful outcome," he said.
Mayor David Kaptain said the video showed "a disturbed young woman."
"They tried to talk her out and she wouldn't come out," Kaptain said. "What I saw was a very disturbed young woman who apparently was out of control. She set fire to the car. Flames were coming out of the windows and she was still in there. Somebody that does that while they sit in the car is not doing well."
Officers can be heard in the video saying they saw drug paraphernalia and a white powdery substance in the car. When asked if drugs were found in the car, Swoboda said that will be part of the state police investigation.
Police said Clements had the hourlong standoff with officers after she fled from a traffic stop in Elgin. The video starts with Clements' driving north on Route 25 and getting onto eastbound Interstate 90, then it shows her car stopped westbound, damaged and disabled. It's unclear where she turned around, police said.
In the video, Clements periodically moves her car forward and police eventually box her in between squad cars.
"There are so many moving parts to this whole thing, this tragedy. But the one variable that changed the whole dynamic and caused it to end this way was the fire that she started in the car," Councilman Terry Gavin said. "The police officers are moving in not to arrest her but to rescue her. She came at the police in two steps. It looked like she was making a move at the police officer."
"It's sad for the community. It's sad for the family."
"It's a pretty tough one," Councilwoman Rose Martinez said. "It's very, very sad and unfortunate for the victim, for the community and for the officer."
"They were getting prepared to go rescue her, but out of nowhere she comes out," she said.
Romanucci said Clements was "overmatched" by 20 to 30 police officers who put themselves "in a position of jeopardy."
Romanucci and attorney Andrew Stroth of Action Injury Law Group spoke just before the media were shown the video Thursday afternoon. They were flanked by Clements' brother Chevelle Clements, sister-in-law Holly Clements, and her father, Charles Clements.
"This should never have happened," her father said, asking that the community "let the justice system play out."
Decynthia was a good mom and aunt to several nieces and nephews, and she always reached out to family members, Holly Clements said.
A few dozen community members gathered outside the police department Thursday chanting and holding signs protesting the shooting. Activist Corey Battles said most people have seen the video and are "highly upset."
"We believe it could've been handled totally different," he said. "They had all the tools for nonlethal weapons, and we believe that he made a choice to use lethal weapons. That was the problem."
Activists have protested daily in front of the police department demanding release of the video and questioning why Clements was shot. Battles said protests are expected to continue through the weekend.
Illinois State Police are conducting an investigation expected to last months, followed by a review by the Cook County's state's attorney's office and an internal review by Elgin police.
Another councilwoman, Tish Powell, called for an outside investigator to do an internal investigation of the shooting once the state police are done. The city also should create a board of residents that would help review allegations of police misconduct, Powell said. Kaptain said that decision will be up to the city council.