'Mama, they just shot us for nothing': Waukegan police officer fatally shoots Black teen, injures woman

CHICAGO – A Black teen was killed and a woman was injured Tuesday night after a Waukegan police officer shot into a car that allegedly reversed toward him.

Marcellis Stinnette, 19, died from his injuries, according to a preliminary autopsy report released Thursday.

"This is truly a tragedy," Lake County coroner Dr. Howard Cooper said in a press release.

The incident happened just before midnight Tuesday, when an officer approached a "suspicious" vehicle, Waukegan Police Commander Edgar Navarro told reporters Wednesday. As the officer was conducting his investigation, the vehicle fled and was spotted moments later by another officer, who got out of his car to approach the vehicle, Navarro said.

"That officer exited his vehicle, and the vehicle that he was investigating began to reverse towards the officer. The officer then pulled out his duty weapon and fired into the vehicle," Navarro said.

The officer, who is Hispanic and a 5-year veteran of the department, was "in fear for his safety," according to police.

He struck both Stinnette, who was in the passenger seat, and Tafara Williams, who was in the driver's seat. They both were taken to the hospital, where Stinnette died.

No firearms were found in the vehicle, Navarro said. He did not elaborate on why the vehicle was initially stopped.

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Both officers involved have been placed on leave, but it was not immediately clear how long they would remain on leave, Navarro said.

The families of Stinnette and Williams have questioned the department's official narrative. Cliftina Johnson, Williams’ mom, said she visited her daughter in the hospital, where she is in serious condition. Her daughter is in her 20s and is a mother of two.

"When I got there, she said, 'Mama, they just shot us for nothing,'" Johnson told reporters on Wednesday. "My daughter said she put her hand up, and if she didn’t put her hand up, she said, 'Mama, I would be dead.'"

Williams, who the coroner’s office did not identify by name, has serious injuries but is expected to recover, the office said.

Illinois State Police's Public Integrity Task Force was investigating the incident, according to the department. The Waukegan Police Department had turned over all reports, body cam and dashcam videos, Navarro said.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said Wednesday he would review the state police investigation and make the "entire case file" available to the public once complete.

"This will take some time," Nerheim said. "We're all upset about this, but I just hope people will stay calm and respect he process."

Dozens of men, women and children marched through Waukegan on Thursday afternoon to demand justice for Williams and Stinnette, walking with fists raised and chanting "Black lives matter."

"Say his name! Marcellis Stinnette! What's her name? Tafara Williams," the group chanted, according to livestreams of the march posted to social media.

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Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said Wednesday the shooting affected him on a personal level.

"This is tough on this community. I know this family personally. Their great-grandmother used to babysit me. To speak to them about this, yeah it hurts," Cunningham said at a press conference. "I'm a Black man who grew up in that same neighborhood. It could have been me."

Cunningham urged residents to wait for the results of the investigation, saying that there was a lot of "uncertainty" and "rumors flying around."

"I'm nervous for Waukegan. We’ve seen this play out through this country. It just rips through communities, and it takes years to rebuild," he said.

With a population of more than 86,000, Waukegan is majority Hispanic or Latino and about a quarter non-Hispanic white and a quarter Black, according to the Census Bureau.

The city is about 15 miles south of Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake, 29, was shot in the back multiple times as he was getting into a car, triggering unrest in the city and sparking protests around the nation.

Of the more than 5,700 people police have shot since 2015, 24% were Black, even though Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, according to a Washington Post database of fatal shootings by on-duty police officers.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Waukegan shooting: Marcellis Stinnette killed by police; woman injured