Waukegan police say shooting that killed Black teen was in self-defense; protesters question it

Preliminary results from an autopsy confirm Marcellis Stinnette, 19, "died from injuries due to a gunshot" fired by a Waukegan police officer while he was a passenger in a vehicle, Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper announced Thursday.

The fatal police shooting of Stinnette, a Waukegan resident who is Black, on Tuesday night is provoking questions and outrage about whether it was justified although authorities said the officer who fired feared for his life.

"This is truly a tragedy," Cooper said in a statement. "We have been in close contact with Mr. Stinnette's family and our deepest condolences go out to them during this difficult time."

Black Lives Matter Lake County Chapter representatives plan a peaceful protest Thursday starting from the location where Stinnette was shot.

The situation unfolded shortly before midnight Tuesday when a Waukegan officer fired into a vehicle in self-defense after the driver started reversing as the officer walked toward it, police Cmdr. Edgar Navarro said Wednesday. The officer is Hispanic and a 5-year veteran of the force.

The driver, a Black woman in her 20s from Waukegan, suffered serious injuries but is expected to recover, officials said.

The shooting has been turned over to the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force to investigate and their findings will be given to Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim.

Lake County Black Lives Matter founder Clyde McLemore of Zion said the woman, Tafara Williams, and a witness contend the officer rammed the vehicle she was driving and began shooting.

"Killing one of our citizens is not acceptable," McLemore said. Stinnette had been in an accident recently and used a walker, he said. Williams was Stinnette's girlfriend and the couple are parents to a young child.

The autopsy was conducted Wednesday and toxicology reports are pending as the investigation continues, Cooper said.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham asked anyone who witnessed the encounter to pass on any videos.

Nerheim said in a statement, "It's important to note the Illinois State Police will conduct this investigation on their own, and that the Waukegan Police Department will play no role whatsoever in the investigation."

Emotions spilled over into a police media briefing Wednesday afternoon livestreamed by ABC 7 Chicago, when a number of people interrupted, asking, "Why they did fire?"

One man said, "My nephew is dead in the street."

The shooting occurred after a Waukegan police officer was investigating a suspicious vehicle that had stopped near Liberty and Oak streets, Navarro said.

The driver sped away, but the vehicle was spotted minutes later near Martin Luther King Jr. and South avenues by the second officer.

When the vehicle began backing up, the officer fired his semi-automatic pistol, striking the driver and passenger, police said. Stinnette was taken to a hospital, where he died.

No firearms were found in the vehicle.

The first police officer is a white man with five years of experience on the force.

Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper scheduled an autopsy for Wednesday.

Waukegan police use body and squad car cameras, but no video has been released yet.

Nerheim said it may take several weeks for the state police report, and when it's complete, "I will make a determination regarding whether the officers violated any laws. Should it be determined the officers violated a law, they will be criminally charged. If laws were not broken, I will write up a detailed statement that will completely review the facts, show the evidence, explain applicable laws, and give our reasoning for the final decision."

He asked for "continued calm and patience as the investigation takes place."

"Our deepest condolences go out to the families and friends of the person that was killed and our prayers for a speedy recovery go out to the person injured in this unfortunate situation," Nerheim said.

A man questions a fatal police shooting that killed a Waukegan teen Wednesday outside the police station. Waukegan police officials said an officer fired in self-defense as a vehicle began reversing toward him. courtesy of ABC 7 Chicago
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