Elgin police lieutenant who fatally shot woman on tollway to return to full duty 'with limited public interaction'
An Elgin police lieutenant who fatally shot a woman last year is being reinstated to full duty, with no discipline, but "in an administrative capacity with limited public interaction at this time," after a decision by the police chief and city manager.
Lt. Christian Jensen has been on paid leave since he shot resident Decynthia Clements on March 12, 2018, a tragedy that has roiled the city for nearly 18 months. "I have been diligent to listen to all voices for the purpose of finding a remedy that could move the community and the police department forward in healing," Elgin Police Chief Ana Lalley said in her 36-page report released Wednesday evening.
City Manager Rick Kozal released his own statement saying he concurs with Lalley. "Now begins the hard work of sitting down with others we don't always agree with to find solutions to our common issues," he said.
Jensen was found justified in using deadly force by the Cook County state's attorney's office after an investigation by the Illinois State Police, and by Hillard Heintze, a consultant hired by the city. Lalley's report concurred with that and also cleared Jensen of three policy violations that had been highlighted by Hillard Heintze.
Clements' father, Charles Clements, said he was disappointed but not surprised. Lalley informed him of the decision in a phone call Wednesday afternoon before it was made public, he said.
"The way they are doing things nowadays, you don't get surprised anymore," he said. The family has done its best to carry his daughter's memory and "will keep rising," he said.
Decynthia Clements had a standoff with police inside her car along the Jane Addams Tollway during which officers attempted to communicate with her multiple times. They pinned her vehicle between two squad cars, and one officer at one point said Clements had a knife to her neck and might be stabbing herself. Autopsy reports showed Clements had cuts on her neck and cocaine in her system.
When Clements lit two pieces of paper on fire and threw them into the back seat, Lalley's report states, Jensen led a team of four officers to try to rescue Clements. Jensen had a shield and drew his gun at the same time that a knife "flashes through smoke," Lalley's report states.
Clements exited with a knife in each hand and was simultaneously shot by Jensen and Tasered by another officer.
Lalley questioned Jensen Aug. 5. in the presence of Jensen's attorney, Timothy O'Neil, Deputy Police Chief Colin Fleury and Elgin Corporation Counsel Bill Cogley.
"I knew going up to the vehicle this was going to be hard, because you have a suicidal person who has a knife who's in a burning car who you don't want them to burn in, you know, the car and you don't want to be stabbed at the same time, you don't want your officers to be hurt," Jensen said on Aug. 5.
"But the best plan I could come up with at that time was me with the shield, and if you watch the video, I'm sure you all have, you know, a hundred times, I don't go up with like my sidearm at first, because I was going to pin the door, I was going to break the window."
Hillard Heintze found that Jensen violated body camera policy, which was in draft, when he turned off his body camera twice, although it was on during the shooting.
Lalley's report said video from Jensen's squad car, the Illinois tollway and another officer's body camera shows that during those times, Jensen was speaking with a state police trooper, Fleury and Sgt. Jim Lalley, who is the police chief's husband. Ana Lalley was a commander when the shooting happened.
Lalley's report said Jensen did not violate department policy because it allows exceptions mirroring state law, which says officers can turn off their cameras when "completing paperwork alone or only in the presence of another law enforcement officer," or when inside squad cars with functioning in-car cameras.
Hillard Heintze found Jensen violated department policy by not calling an ambulance as soon as he realized Clements was having a serious mental health episode. Lalley's report said an ambulance "would have been of no assistance during the active situation," and that department policies "provide conflicting standards as to when an ambulance should be called to an active incident scene." Also, the Elgin Fire Department's own policy says paramedics won't enter the scene until officers say it's safe.
Jensen violated policy by not rendering medical aid immediately after he shot Clements, Hillard Heintze found. Jensen said Aug. 5 he would have "absolutely" rendered aid if necessary but that Clements was clearly dead. He asked an officer to call for an ambulance immediately after the shooting.
Lalley's report states that two other officers violated policy: Officer Matthew Joniak, who did not activate his body camera when he made initial contact with Clements, who later fled a traffic stop; and Sgt. Robert Hartman, who turned off his body camera one time. Their policy violations will be addressed in separate reports, Lalley said. Joniak is on a long-term military deployment that began Sept. 9, 2018, and Hartman resigned in October.
The Clements family has a federal lawsuit pending against the city, Jensen and the other officers present the night of the shooting.
Clements' relatives have said Jensen knew her, but Jensen told Lalley on Aug. 5 that he never met her. Clements had contact with the police department 18 times from 1994 and 2007, and Jensen is not listed in any of the incident reports.
Activists in Elgin have been advocating for Jensen's firing and in May gathered 1,600 signatures on a petition to that effect. At one point, they put up a billboard asking for justice for Clements; the Elgin police union put up its own billboard expressing support for Jensen.
The latest activists' protest, comprising about 100 people, briefly interrupted a July 30 police question-and-answer session about the shooting.
Council members Terry Gavin and Toby Shaw previously said Jensen should be allowed to return to work, while council members Corey Dixon and Tish Powell said he should be fired. The other five council members declined to express their views publicly.
"After two investigations, it's become obvious that Lt. Jensen acted not only within the law but within police department policy on the actual deadly force," Gavin said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, a tragedy happened on March 12. The tragedy ended badly, and it ended badly for both and for everybody who was there. Nobody wanted the outcome."
The council held a special executive session meeting Tuesday night with no consensus on whether Jensen should come back to work, and if so, how and in what position, Councilwoman Carol Rauschenberger said.
Council members agreed to accept Lalley's decision, Rauschenberger said.
"We should honor Ms. Clements and this tragedy by continuing making positive changes to police policy and procedures that make everyone in Elgin safer," she said.
Activist Marcus Banner, the main organizer of the July 30 protest, said he expected Jensen would be reinstated. "They were just trying to figure out the right moment, the right time. Act as if they cared about what the community had to say."
Banner said he's not planning any immediate protest but could not speak for others.
Jensen's annual salary is $129,842; he received a 2.5% pay increase Jan. 1, the same as all full-time employees. In his 19-year career until 2018, he got 14 departmental commendations, 73 letters of appreciation, and was named the manager of the year in 2014, among other honors.
Jensen was the subject of six residents' complaints, two involving excessive use of force in 2006 and 2007, and none sustained after internal review. A seventh complaint was filed May 19 by a resident who was stopped and cited by Jensen in 2017. Jensen was exonerated after internal review in late July, according to documents recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. The man declined to comment to the Daily Herald.
Last fall, 19 clergy members in Elgin signed a letter to the city asking that Jensen not return to active duty. Among them was Pastor Nathaniel Edmond of Second Baptist Church of Elgin, who last week said that, even though Jensen made "a bad decision to shoot," Lalley was tasked with a tough decision.
"Folks are not going to be happy either way," he said.