Family: Report shows cop didn't have to shoot, kill Elgin woman
Nothing about a report detailing the March 12 death of Decynthia Clements comes as a shock to the Elgin woman's family members. But it does reaffirm their belief that the fatal police shooting was unjustified, their attorney said.
Clements, 34, was shot three times by Elgin police Lt. Christian Jensen as she left her burning vehicle while holding a knife on the Addams Tollway, according to a Cook County medical examiner's report. None of the shots were fired from a close range, and police said she was simultaneously stunned with a Taser.
Toxicology results determined Clements had cocaine and benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, in her bloodstream.
Antonio Romanucci, the attorney for Clements' family, says the circumstances indicate police could have "easily" used nonlethal force to address the situation. The presence of a knife doesn't mean the weapon was an imminent threat to officers, he said.
"It proves our initial theory that shooting Decynthia was not necessary," he said. "There's no doubt that when someone's in an emotional episode, the objective is to preserve life rather than take it away."
Police were not immediately available for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The day after the shooting, Chief Jeff Swoboda told community members that officers cannot be expected to wrestle knives away. He pointed to the officers' efforts to shut down I-90 and attempts to coax Clements out of her vehicle for more than an hour after she fled a traffic stop in Elgin.
Police squad car and body camera footage shows officers discussing their approach and moving in as heavy smoke started pouring out of the car from a fire started by Clements. Clements opened the door and left the vehicle with a knife in hand, at which point Jensen shot her twice in the head and once in the chest, according to reports.
Family members were not blind to Clements' drug use or mental illness, sister-in-law Holly Clements said Tuesday.
"It was no secret that there were drugs in her system. I don't want the public to think that was a surprise to anyone," she said. But she also believes officers did not know how to properly handle a situation involving a distressed woman.
The medical examiner's report determined Decynthia had soot in her lungs and burns on her calves, the Chicago Tribune reported. Family members are arguing that Clements, who was 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 103 pounds, would not have been strong enough to attack police.
"(The report) was very disturbing to us. It just puts more reality on it," Holly Clements said. "It definitely makes us feel that it is a wrongful death."
Jensen is on administrative leave pending an investigation by Illinois State Police. Clements' death was the first fatal police shooting in Elgin in 19 years.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.