Divided city leaders: Decision on future of cop who shot Clements will be 'a pivotal moment'
The imminent decision about whether to fire or discipline a police officer who fatally shot a woman last year is "a pivotal moment" for Elgin, divided city council members said Saturday.
About 50 residents attended a 3½-hour council meeting to hear a presentation about a professional standards investigation and the first public discussion of the shooting of resident Decynthia Clements, which has roiled the city for the past 16 months.
The public submitted 65 written questions, several focusing on body camera usage by Lt. Christian Jensen, who shot Clements on March 12, 2018.
The investigation included interviews with 11 officers but not Sgt. Rob Hartman, who did not respond to attempts to contact him, said Debra Kirby, senior project lead for the investigation by Hillard Heinze of Chicago. Hartman was interviewed by state police last year and resigned in October.
Jensen's use of deadly force complied with department policy, the consultants found in a report first released online about a week ago. He was also cleared by the Cook County state's attorney's office.
Jensen, however, violated the department's body camera policy -- at the time in draft form -- when he turned off his body camera twice, once for less than a minute, once for 31 minutes. The policy became final in July 2018.
When Jensen turned off his camera, he was calling supervisors on his work cellphone, the consultants said.
"I'm currently working on breaking down that time frame and breaking down what he was doing," Police Chief Ana Lalley said.
Kirby said "there may be some level of interpretation" about whether Jensen violated a separate state body camera law. Hartman also turned off his body camera at one point.
Call for armored vehicle
Clements had a standoff with police inside her car along the Jane Addams Tollway. Jensen violated policy by not calling an ambulance as soon as he realized Clements was suffering a "serious mental episode" about an hour before she was shot, consultants said. Jensen directed another officer to get an armored vehicle and there was a plan to assemble a small SWAT team, they said.
Officers moved in to rescue Clements after she started a fire in her vehicle. She exited with a knife in each hand and was simultaneously Tasered by one officer and shot by Jensen. A third officer said he attempted to draw his gun.
"Three people of the four that were there felt their lives were threatened," Mayor David Kaptain said.
Councilwoman Rose Martinez said, "I know people don't think knives are dangerous, but it doesn't take much to cut an artery."
Consultant Carl Dobrich said Clements "charged at the officers in an aggressive manner." Council members Corey Dixon and Tish Powell questioned that.
"Is it conceivable that she was stumbling forward versus lunging or charging out of the car?" Powell said.
Councilman John Steffen called it "a tough situation." "I see the effort by the officers to de-escalate, to slow roll this … but at the same time, I see the officers not have the skill set needed for this type of a crisis," he said.
Officers tried to communicate with Clements, but she moved her vehicle forward 11 times, Lalley said. Jensen was not trained in crisis intervention, but three officers on the scene were, and Hartman was a trained negotiator, Lalley said.
Officers at the scene said Clements was holding a knife to her neck, and they had been informed of a suicidal call involving Clements in 2015. A toxicology report after her death showed cocaine in her system and wounds on her neck.
Councilman Terry Gavin wondered whether the shooting might have been "a suicide by cop."
Charles Clements, the victim's father, said he hopes for justice.
"If you look at bodycams and dashcams and you still don't see the wrongness in this, I don't know what else to say," he said.
The police union recently put up a billboard expressing support for Jensen -- a decision supported by the Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois -- after activists in May put up a billboard asking for justice for Clements.
Residents gather later
Many of the residents who attended the council meeting also attended Saturday afternoon's "Let's Talk: Elgin's Community Trauma," led by Anthony Smith, executive director of the nonprofit Cities United. It was hosted at the public library by the group Elgin City of Peace.
Several residents said there will be no healing for Elgin if Jensen is allowed to return to duty. A petition with 1,600 signatures asking for his firing was turned in to the city. "Please listen to the community," Mary Shesgreen said.
But Smith said that if Jensen is reinstated, "he should be part of the healing process."
Residents also said Jensen, who used to be a gang officer, has a bad reputation in Elgin.
One, Anthony Ortiz, reiterated an accusation he made when he was campaigning in the spring election for Elgin City Council: that Jensen gave him no explanation for pulling him over and searching his car a decade ago when Ortiz was 19. When Jensen found out Ortiz was about to start Marines boot camp, Ortiz said, Jensen threatened to call people there to "(expletive) you up."
Resident Jose Bosque said Jensen and others on the gang unit would "constantly pull people over, search the car and make everybody stand outside."
Jensen's disciplinary record includes six residents' complaints in his 19-year career, none of them sustained after internal review. Lalley said anyone who wants to report current or past complaints can contact her.
Lalley gave an earnest statement in the morning that elicited applause from the audience.
"I am sorry for this tragedy on many levels, and the heartache that many have experienced during this time," she said. In the end, her recommendation "will be made on facts," Lalley said.
City Manager Rick Kozal is responsible for all hiring and firing. There will be an administrative and legal review, Lalley will make a recommendation, and city council members will give input. Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley said Jensen is entitled to an arbitration hearing for any discipline exceeding a five-day suspension.
A decision will be announced in the next few weeks. Dixon and Powell have said they believe Jensen should be fired. An online petition started by a resident and calling for their resignation gathered 38 signatures as of Saturday.
Elgin police will host a moderated question-and-answer session for the community 6 to 8 p.m. July 30 at the Centre of Elgin, and a listening session 4 to 6 p.m. Aug. 24 at Elgin Community College.