Two Chicago police officers were dismissed Thursday over a 2016 stolen car chase that resulted in the death of an unarmed black teenager. In an 8-0 decision, the Chicago Police Board found that the officers, Michael Coughlin and Jose Torres, had violated the department’s rules by shooting at the car driven by 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in July 2016.
The board also ruled that the two officers endangered the lives of other officers while firing at the moving car. The two were discharged from their positions, according to a decision issued by the board.
They can, however, appeal the decision to the Cook County Circuit Court.
In July 2016, Coughlin and Torres responded to a call of a stolen Jaguar. O’Neal was driving the car with one passenger, a minor who has not been named by the police board.
After Coughlin and Torres arrived in the area – around 75th Street and Merrill Avenue in South Shore – Torres drove a police vehicle the wrong way down a one-way street and parked there in order to block the stolen car if it should appear.
Torres then got out of the car and moved onto the grass near the sidewalk. Coughlin also left the car with his firearm raised. Soon, the stolen car emerged, and he started shooting at it, according to the police board.
The car then veered onto the grass and passed the police vehicle. Coughlin went on to shoot in that direction. The stolen car kept moving down the street toward another police vehicle occupied by two other officers who were responding to the scene. Coughlin kept shooting and Torres also fired a shot at the rear of the vehicle.
The car eventually crashed into the second police vehicle, and O’Neal ran from it, fleeing on foot. He was then shot to death by a third officer, Jose Diaz, who chased him through the backyards of several homes in the 7300 block of South Merrill.
Diaz, who was captured on a body camera video kicking O’Neal after he was shot, was given a six-month suspension. Diaz had earlier argued that he believed O’Neal had a gun and authorities later concluded that the shooting was justified.
However, Coughlin, who repeatedly shot at a moving stolen vehicle, broke Police Department rules, according to the board, and “endangered the lives of everyone around him, including his own partner and fellow officers as well at the occupants of the stolen vehicle.” The board said his use of force was “unreasonable and unjustified at all points it occurred.”
The board further indicated that Torres violated department rules by driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He also endangered the lives of other officers on the scene and the occupants of the car by firing his weapon.
Department rules, according to Chicago Tribune, generally prohibit officers from shooting at a moving car if the vehicle is the only weapon being used against them. In the 2016 incident, the officers kept firing after the car had passed them.
O’Neal’s killing came at a time when Chicago was grappling with reports of police violence. Scores of residents, particularly black people, did not trust the police. When the videos of O’Neal’s shooting were released, protests against police violence were held across the country.
Meanwhile, the family of O’Neal has filed a lawsuit against Diaz, who fired the fatal shot, asking that he be removed from the force. The family has also sued the Police Department, seeking monetary damages.