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How Chicago Police, IPRA & State’s Attorney Covered Up the Murder of Ronald Johnson

Twenty-five year-old Ronald Johnson was shot and killed by Chicago police officer George Hernandez on October 12, 2014, and at a press conference, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez showed a video of Johnson being gunned down as he ran away from police and announced Hernandez would not be charged with murder for the shooting.

Alvarez presented the media with an opening argument typically heard during a trial, however, instead of acting as a prosecutor, it was as if she was part of the defense team for Hernandez. She made multiple statements about an “object” in Johnson’s hand to fuel a narrative created by police that Johnson had a gun. All that can be seen in the video is a shadow, and it is unclear even in the enhanced freeze frame whether he had any “object.”

A couple hours later, the mother of Johnson, Dorothy Holmes, and her attorney, Michael Oppenheimer, held their own press conference to rebut what Alvarez said to the media.

“I’m very upset that she didn’t [prosecute] this officer [for] murdering my son, and I’m not going to stop til I get what I want for him and that’s justice,” Holmes declared. “Because if that had been anybody in her family that got killed like that, that officer would have been charged with murder and that case would have gotten looked into way before a year.”

“For her to say my son had an object in her hand, I’ll tell her to her face. She’s a bald-faced liar. He had nothing in his hand. And I hope one day she feel the pain that I feel,” Holmes added.

“Nobody can argue that what this video shows is that the police, that the State’s Attorney’s Office have lied,” Oppenheimer asserted. “They said that [Johnson] turned and pointed a weapon and nobody can say that he turned and did anything of the sort. If you look at all of the evidence and if you look at how all of this was handled, there is no doubt that there has been a coverup.”

The Chicago Police Department’s Office of News Affairs released the following “preliminary statement,” which was published in the Chicago Tribune, “A foot pursuit ensued during which time the offender pointed his weapon in the direction of the pursuing officers. As a result of this action, an officer discharged his weapon striking the offender.”

Oppenheimer told media no witnesses in the case were interviewed by Alvarez’s office. Prosecutors and the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) did not interview Hernandez.

“IPRA says they were waiting for the state to let them know what their investigation would have. The state says they’re waiting for IPRA. This is a joke. It’s the blind leading the blind,” Oppenheimer added.

Oppenheimer, on the other hand, took a deposition from Hernandez for a federal lawsuit filed weeks after the shooting. He meticulously outlined an array of fabrications and alleged misconduct, which took place over the past year to cover up what really happened to Johnson.

Police Accused of Planting a Gun 

Alvarez claimed there is no evidence to support the allegation that police planted a gun on Johnson after he was shot five times. But Oppenheimer undermined this claim.

Hernandez indicated he recovered a gun from the right hand of Johnson, when he fell to the ground. Oppenheimer argued this was impossible because Johnson was shot while he was running, and the gun would have been knocked loose from his hand when his body fell to the ground.

Johnson’s attorney also argued it is never within the rules or proper to reach down and “recover a gun from a suspect’s hand as he’s lying on the ground.”

“They claimed that he was still breathing. He was dead. Do they really expect that he will come back to life and shoot him?” Oppenheimer asked. “That bullet went through his back, it came through his jugular, and it came through his eye socket. He was dead when he hit the ground. They then pick up the gun allegedly, and it ends up in a sergeant’s trunk.”

“Why didn’t they leave the gun there? Why didn’t they have an evidence tech take pictures to show where they recovered that gun? Ronald Johnson was not only not moving. He was already dead.”

Oppenheimer also shared, “We’ve taken depositions for quite a few officers.” And, “When asked why didn’t you fire your weapon or why didn’t you take out your gun, they said because I didn’t consider this guy a threat. I was not threatened.”

“Some say they never saw a gun. Most say they never saw a gun recovered. They conveniently were falling down or tripped when the gun was recovered. They all differ on what they say, but the biggest lie is they say he turned and pointed [a gun].”

What About the Gun and the Grass and DNA Found on It? 

Screen shot 2015-12-07 at 5.20.54 PM

Gun police claim Johnson had while he was being chased. It was removed from the scene and put in a sergeant’s trunk.

Oppenheimer unequivocally stated the gun never belonged to Johnson. It was a “rusty old gun” that was constructed in 1979.

“There is nothing to tie Ronald Johnson to anything to do with that gun,” Oppenheimer argued.  [Alvarez] talked about [the gun], because she wants to inflame the public and justify her position again in the three-card monte—Look over here.”

Alvarez told the media the gun was used in a shooting on September 25, 2013, in Chicago. But the lab presented no evidence to tie Johnson to the prior shooting. There were no fingerprints on the gun.

DNA was found. It was Johnson’s blood, and it was on the hammer of the gun. Oppenheimer noted no other part of the gun had blood on it. He suggested it was part of the coverup and officers had wiped the gun in some of his blood.

Oppenheimer further insisted the grass on the gun was an added effect by officers. The gun had been dragged through grass in order to bolster the police narrative.

“Why in the world didn’t any of those other officers shoot Ronnie Johnson if he had a gun? They all had weapons,” he added.

Police Accused of Coercing Key Witness

In a sworn statement, Witness A (who the State’s Attorney refer to as Individual A) told Oppenheimer he had no idea about Johnson having a gun until detective presented him with the idea.

“By the time I had the conversation with the state’s attorney, I’d already conjured this notion, this story. The story that I told her was the story that we had, me and the detectives.” He also said, “It was a lie that I thought it was a gun.” He “made up the gun.”

Alvarez apparently never read these sworn statements from witnesses about this alleged coercion by police because it did not come up at all in her presentation. Alvarez and her staff never even talked to this witness, however, they relied heavily on Witness A to reinforce the narrative that Johnson had a weapon.

Bullet police claim was left by Johnson in back seat

Bullet police claim was left by Johnson in back seat

Witness A is who Alvarez claimed heard Johnson cock a gun in the backseat of a vehicle while he was driving. He is where they get the idea that a bullet was left in the car, but Witness A told Oppenheimer that he never saw that bullet in the car. Oppenheimer suggested officers had plenty of time to throw a bullet in the backseat.

According to Oppenheimer, it was possible to coerce Witness A to lie because he is young, has a good job, and was scared.

Officers Watch Video Moments After Being Involved in the Shooting

As explained by Oppenheimer, officers are supposed to write down independent testimony detailing what they witnessed. However, based on depositions, the officers did not write their reports until after they watched video of the shooting.

“There were interviews by detectives and commanders at the scene,” Oppenheimer shared. “After the incident, at some point, everybody went back to the station house. I like to call it the movie theatre. And it just so happens that at the station house they all got their popcorn ready because the video of this incident, the video of the murder of Dorothy Holmes’ son Ronnie Johnson, was being played on the screen.” And, “Every last one of them sat there and watched the video and then they gave their statements.”

Detectives are supposed to interview people and take notes, which become “general progress reports.” The city claims these do not exist. The corporation counsel for the city says nobody has them. It is unclear if they were destroyed or never drafted.

“No Right to Shoot Ronald Johnson In the Back” 

Alvarez suggested Hernandez considered how Johnson had a handgun, how shots were being fired in the area, how Johnson resisted arrest when two officers drew their weapons and tried to cuff him, how he was running toward a public park, and how another occupied police vehicle was arriving in the direction in which Johnson fled.

In the narrative Hernandez adopted, he was afraid of someone being hurt in Washington Park. But it was 12:30 at night and nobody was in the park.

Still, as Oppenheimer described, officers made up a justification for picking up the gun from the body and not leaving it at the scene because they said a “crowd” was forming. They were worried about a “riot.”

Seven people can be seen in the video on a corner. There is little to not threat of any of them rushing across the street to grab a gun.

Importantly, Officer Hernandez pulls up in his car. He gets out. He draws his weapon, takes a few steps and then he fires his weapon at Johnson. This unfolds in a matter of a couple seconds. He did not have time to think about all or most of these factors, which Alvarez argues made murdering Johnson defensible.

“I Don’t Know What Coverup You’re Referring To”

Alvarez was incredulous as press asked her about whether there had been a coverup. “I don’t know what coverup you’re referring to. I’m not covering anything up,” she replied.

However, if there is no coverup, why is it the State’s Attorney’s office relied on the IPRA, an incredibly corrupt agency, the head of which just resigned? Since it was formed in 2007, only three shootings have been deemed unjustified by IPRA.

Why is it the State’s Attorney did not conduct their own interviews with these witnesses to find out if Oppenheimer’s allegations were true? Was Alvarez afraid of pursuing a route that would uncover rank acts of corruption?

Even Alvarez admitted during the press conference that Dorothy Holmes shared two names of individuals, who IPRA had not interviewed. This happened in April, and those two people were interviewed finally “about a week and a half ago.”

She also had no reasonable response to multiple questions about why there is no audio and why some dash cams in police vehicles, which responded, had not even been turned on to capture what unfolded. When she talked about the possibility that officers disabled audio, it was very nonchalant, like audio would not have changed the fact that she believed Hernandez was justified in shooting Johnson.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a press conference to announce the new head of IPRA, and during questions, Emanuel completely dodged a question about Johnson. He avoided any specific comment on the outcome and said it was now in the hands of IPRA to decide whether to discipline Hernandez.

Dorothy Holmes (Screen shot from ABC7Chicago)

Dorothy Holmes (Screen shot from ABC7Chicago)

“This is a coverup from the beginning,” Oppenheimer concluded. “It started at the scene. It’s been gone through, as they whitewashed what had happened.” Part of the reason why this coverup persists, as Oppenheimer stated, is because “Anita Alvarez does not indict police officers.”

Holmes called for the case to be immediately re-opened and that Hernandez be charged with murder while Oppenheimer indicated he was pushing for a federal investigation so federal charges could be filed against Hernandez.

Antony Loewenstein speaks at a rally in New South Wales, Australia on May 18, 2014. (Flickr / Claudio Accheri)
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."