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Video released this week by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, shows an off-duty Chicago police sergeant opening fire and wounding an unarmed autistic man as he stood on a sidewalk in front of a home last year.
When Sergeant Khalil Muhammad shot Ricardo Hayes on August 13, 2017, it was initially described as an armed confrontation.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Hayes, then 18, had wandered away from his home when his caretaker called police, and informed them ahead of time that he was autistic.
Sergeant Muhammad was off-duty, wearing civilian clothes and driving his unmarked personal vehicle when he spotted the young man wandering the neighborhood. In his police report, the 47-year-old said he was “investigating a suspicious person” at the time of the incident.
Surveillance video from the front porch of a neighboring residence shows Hayes running as a vehicle driven by Muhammad follows him. The young man stops and stands on the sidewalk in front of a home as the car approaches.
Words are heard, which are indistinct but sound as if they could be: “What you doing over here, man? Huh, what you running from?”
Hayes takes four steps toward the vehicle, unarmed with his arms at his sides. That’s when two gunshots can be heard coming from the vehicle. Hayes stumbles backwards and runs down the sidewalk.
After the shooting, Muhammad took him into custody, only then calling 911 to request and ambulance.
“I’m behind Morgan Park High School, I’ve got a person down,” Muhammad says, as wailing can be heard in the background.
“The guy pulled – like he was about to pull a gun on me, walked up to the car, and I had to shoot,” he states.
In a tactical response report filed later that day, Muhammad also wrote that Hayes “displayed a dark object perceived to be a gun.”
Hayes did not suffer life-threatening injuries from the shooting. He was treated and released.
A federal lawsuit filed in August on Hayes’ behalf alleges that the officer used excessive force, saying Hayes posed no threat when the officer opened fire. The suit names Muhammad in addition to the city of Chicago as defendants.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, no criminal charges were ever brought against Muhammad in connection with the shooting.
Police disciplinary records show that Muhammad — who was hired by the CPD in 2000 — has been the subject of eight misconduct complaints.
The Laquan McDonald affect
Many are wondering if the conviction of police officer of the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald earlier this month will impact this latest case.
Jason Van Dyke was found guilty in the 2014 killing of McDonald, a case that caught national headlines and launched protests in the city for the last four years. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery.
A jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery. Van Dyke was found not guilty of official misconduct. This comes after Van Dyke took to the stand in his own defense, giving a version of the fateful encounter that did not correlate with the video evidence prosecutors presented.
Even before the trial started, the case had made an impact on law enforcement in the city. Chicago’s police superintendent and the county’s top prosecutor both lost their jobs — one fired by the mayor and the other ousted by voters. It also led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation that found a “pervasive cover-up culture” and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.