Saturday, January 28, 2012

Integrity task force to investigate shooting involving Rockford officer



By Jeff Kolkey

ROCKFORD — A Rockford police officer investigating a 911 report of gunfire shot and killed a 29-year-old passenger today during a traffic stop in the 300 block of North Longwood Street.
Police said there were reports of shots fired in the area of Fairview Boulevard and East State Street. A gray 2005 Pontiac G6 matching a description of a vehicle involved in the shots-fired call was stopped around 1:30 a.m. in a small parking lot on Longwood, , Illinois State Police Lt. Kurt Cavanaugh said during a news conference at the Winnebago County Justice Center.
Although police could reveal few details as an investigation continues, Cavanaugh said a handgun was recovered from the car after the shooting. He also said a female driver and another male passenger were being questioned.
Cavanaugh said multiple police officers were present, but it appears only one of them opened fire. He declined to comment on whether the suspect had pointed a gun at the officers.
The identities of the man who was killed and the officer who shot him were withheld pending family notification. An autopsy was expected to be conducted today.
Police Chief Chet Epperson said he spoke to the officer at the scene and he seemed to be doing well considering the circumstances. In accordance with standard procedures, the officer was placed on leave along with officers who witnessed the incident as the investigation unfolds.
“The Rockford Police Department’s thoughts and prayers are with him and his family as they are with the loved ones of the deceased from this morning,” Epperson said. “This type of incident — we as police officers train for but never want to be a part of. However, in our line of work in policing, we do not have the option of choosing when and where we will become involved in a deadly force situation.”
At 3 a.m., Epperson activated the Winnebago County Integrity Task Force protocol to provide what is designed to be an independent and objective investigation.
Formed in 2010 and made up of more officers from around the county and the Illinois State Police, the task force will investigate any potential criminal activity that occurred in connection with the shooting and investigate the shooting itself. The team investigating the incident includes no Rockford police officers.
Its report will be submitted to Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato.
Bruscato’s office will likely present the findings of the investigation to the Winnebago County grand jury to determine whether the use of deadly force by a police officer was justified. Bruscato also will determine whether to press charges against the other occupants of the car.
Cavanaugh declined to describe what preceded the shooting in detail or say how many shots were fired. He said one police officer opened fire and other officers witnessed the incident.
No charges had been filed against the others who were in the car.
Epperson and Rockford Police Benevolent & Protective Association Unit Six President Terry Peterson said they are pleased so far with how the integrity task force has operated. It’s the first time it has been activated for an officer involved in a shooting in Rockford.
It was created in 2010 in the wake of public outcry for an independent investigation over the officer-involved shooting death of Mark Anthony Barmore in the summer of 2009.
Thirteen area law enforcement agencies have contributed 35 officers to the task force.
“We are happy with how our officers have been treated; they have been treated pretty professionally so far,” Peterson said. “The Integrity Task Force is something we are definitely on board with and we feel is functioning pretty well so far.”
Staff writer Jeff Kolkey can be reached at jkolkey@rrstar.com or at 815-987-1374.