No charges in Zion police shooting

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A Zion police officer who shot a teenager twice in the back will not be charged in the death, officials said. (WLS)

A Zion police officer who shot a teenager twice in the back will not be charged in the death, officials said Thursday.

Justus Howell, 17, was shot while running from police the afternoon of April 4 near 24th Street and Galilee Avenue in north suburban Zion.


Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said during a press conference that his office had concluded its investigation and that the officer was "justified in his decision to use deadly force."

A gun was recovered within a foot of Howell's body, officials said. Witnesses told investigators that during a foot chase between the officer and the teen they had seen Howell carrying the gun and heard the officer tell the teen to drop it.

"These are the facts, Justus Howell was armed and dangerous," Nerheim said. "For those reasons, Officer Hill was in fear for his life and acted reasonably and justifiably to protect himself and his fellow officers."

Howell, a high school senior from north suburban Waukegan, had smoked marijuana within a few hours of his death and his blood-alcohol level was well below the legal limit, the Lake County Coroner determined last month.

Justus Howell

During the press conference, Nerheim showed surveillance video footage from a city lot across the street that captured the shooting. Stopping frame by frame, Nerheim pointed to a slight turn by Howell as the point in which the officer had seen a gun in the teenager's hand. Seconds later, the officer shoots the teen in front of a white house.

Nerheim also showed video that allegedly shows Howell before the shooting, struggling with another man over a gun - a stolen 9-millimeter semi-automatic. When the gun went off, a neighbor called police. Officer Eric Hill and another officer showed up to the scene. That's when Howell ran away and Hill chased after him.

After today's announcement, protestors gathered to denounce the decision. They said it is the latest example of a white police officer killed a young African American man. The group plans to protest outside the Lake County States Attorney's Office Friday afternoon.

"We don't want people out here to be tearing nothing up and burning buildings or anything, we just want justice," said Derell Howell, the victim's uncle.

A family spokesperson said Howell's parents are upset, but want protests to be peaceful. They have met with an attorney to explore their legal options.

The officer involved in the shooting is on administrative leave, but officials said during the press conference that they expect him to return to full duty.

Zion Police Chief Stephen Dumyahn said of Officer Hill: "This has been a very tense situation for him and his family. They've been under a lot of pressure."
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