New demand for grand jury investigation in Justus Howell case

  • Waukegan resident LaToya Howell, mother of Justus Howell, hugs her 12-year-old daughter, Jayla, at a protest after Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim concluded a Zion police officer was justified in fatally shooting her son.

    Waukegan resident LaToya Howell, mother of Justus Howell, hugs her 12-year-old daughter, Jayla, at a protest after Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim concluded a Zion police officer was justified in fatally shooting her son. Daily Herald file photo, 2015

  • Justus Howell

    Justus Howell

  • Mike Nerheim

    Mike Nerheim

 
 
Updated 6/15/2020 10:24 PM

An attorney representing the family of Justus Howell sent an open letter to Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim on Monday, urging a grand jury be convened in the Waukegan teen's shooting.

Howell, who was black, was fatally shot twice in the back by Zion police officer Eric Hill, who is white, in April 2015.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After an investigation by the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, Nerheim concluded that Hill was justified in his decision to use deadly force against Howell, who was 17.

Howell's family filed a federal lawsuit in 2016, alleging the teen was unarmed and authorities lied to justify the killing. A jury rejected the family's claims in 2018.

However, Howell's family members still believe there was a police cover-up, according to their attorney, Jed Stone.

"Zion police fabricated a story to support Hill's cowardly act of murder," Stone wrote.

Neither Nerheim nor Zion Police Chief Kirk Henderson could be reached for comment Monday evening.

In 2015, Nerheim said the task force investigation showed this chain of events:

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Howell met Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst at the Salem Grocery Store in Zion for a gun purchase just before the shooting.

The two left the grocery store and walked to a nearby alley to make the sale. Peet handed Howell a silver Kimber 9 mm handgun that was stolen from a home in Lake Villa.

The two began to struggle, and, at one point, Howell pointed the gun at Peet and threatened to shoot him. The gun discharged, and five witnesses heard the shot.

Officers saw Howell fleeing the scene with a gun in his right hand. Hill chased Howell across several yards. In the front yard of a home on the 2300 block of Galilee, Hill saw Howell lean forward and turn slightly to the right with the gun in his hand. He said Howell refused repeated commands to drop the weapon during the pursuit.

Peet pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful use of a weapon and was sentenced to 24 months of probation, 150 hours of community service and 48 days in the Lake County jail for his role in the illegal gun sale.

In his letter Monday, Stone wrote that an autopsy by then-Coroner Thomas Rudd disproved Hill's version of the events, adding that the Lake County Major Crime Task Force has a "sad history of error and deception."

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