Mom speaks out after cop cleared in shooting

March 26, 2009 2:53:05 PM PDT
The mother of 18-year-old Aaron Harrison is responding to a Chicago police officer being cleared in the shooting death of her son. An investigation concluded that the officer acted within department guidelines after Harrison pointed a gun at officers.But Harrison's mother believes her son was not armed at the time. That shooting happened in 2007. And sparked angry reactions in the west side neighborhood where it took place. Investigators say they came to their conclusion after talking with witnesses and reviewing the autopsy.

The Independent Police Review Authority and its predecessor office of professional standards did interview dozens of witnesses in this case. But what remains unclear to the victim's family: How did the IPRA decide which witnesses were believable?

Through nearly 18 months of weather and waiting, the shrine marking the spot where the shooting happened is still there. There was still daylight on August 6, 2007, when 18-year-old Aaron Harrison was shot to death by a 32-year-old special operations cop who chased the teenager from an attempted street stop on nearby Roosevelt Road. The patrolman told his superiors he fired only after Harrison turned and pointed a pistol at him.

"It demonstrates the amount of guns that's out there on the street and what we're tasked with day to day interaction with those who are armed," said James Jackson, deputy superintendent of police.

But most neighborhood witnesses interviewed said the victim did not have a weapon. Harrison's mother cannot understand the IPRA finding that supports the police version.

"Its 36 pages of most of the witnesses saying that they didn't see him with anything, and they have two supposedly witnesses that say that they did," said Annie Johnson, victim's mother.

The IPRA was called the Office of Professional Standards when the investigation began.

The Harrison report is the first IPRA finding in a fatal shooting of a citizen by an on-duty Chicago police officer.

"We wanna provide that information and we wanna continue a dialogue with the public so once they have the information -- they're not going to agree with every result we have -- but now we can start talking about it," said Ilana Rosenzweig, IPRA director.

Despite its conclusion, the IPRA report raised questions about a handgun found at the scene that allegedly belonged to Harrison. The state police crime lab DNA report read "blood recovered from the barrel....matched subject 1's (Harrison's) DNA profile." But the same lab's fingerprint report indicated "no latent impressions."

"For the officer to say that Aaron had that gun in his hand, there is a mystery, and it is questionable why there are no fingerprints anywhere on that gun to be matched to Aaron," said Ashunda Harris, victim's aunt.

The Aaron Harrison controversy is far from over. The city and the victim's family are litigating a wrongful death lawsuit in which a civil court jury could ultimately decide if the officer used excessive force. But the IPRA ruling all but removes the officer involved in the shooting from any chance of criminal prosecution.