On July 14, 2018, Harith Augustus, a 37-year-old Black barber, was shot to death by Officer Dillan Halley in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago. According to The Intercept, a statement was released later that day by the Chicago Police Department that read, “The officers approached a male suspect exhibiting characteristics of an armed person, when an armed confrontation ensued resulting in an officer discharging his weapon and fatally striking the offender…A weapon was recovered at the scene.”
Today, in 2019, the details of this statement are worth major critique due to new dashcam footage released.
Last year, Forensic Architecture and the Invisible Institute — two research and investigative journalism based collectives — collaborated to further dig up information on Augustus’ death. Part of their work involved repeated freedom of information requests, which eventually led to the dashcam footage being released.
According to police records, the footage was obtained and secured on the day of Augustus’ death. However, the footage was withheld from the public for more than a year. This has caused major concern especially considering the narrative the CPD has painted over the last year, or even the last five years.
The department was still under fire for withholding footage of Laquan McDonald‘s murder. Naturally, when the public heard that another Black man was killed by the police they had questions. People gathered around the site of Augustus’ shooting soon after it happened to demonstrate. Things eventually escalated to disorder and police violence.
The following day, activist Will Calloway, who played a big role in forcing the release of the McDonald footage, held a press conference demanding the immediate release of all relevant video footage to Augustus’ murder.
A few hours later, Superintendent Eddie Johnson tried to assuage public outrage by holding a press conference where he released short body cam footage that was worn by Halley. The footage showed that Augustus had a gun right before he was shot. Johnson explained “We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re not try to fluff anything. The video speaks for itself.”
Some people accepted the video at face value, but others, like the chief administrator of Civilian Office of Police Accountability, still had questions. Sydney Roberts sent Johnson a letter saying that his “piecemeal and arguably narrative-driven video release breeds suspicions, which may ultimately undermine COPA’s ability to successfully investigate allegations of misconduct and officer involved shootings.”
Unsurprisingly, The Fraternal Order of Police thought Johnson was too lenient on the public when addressing the outrage. They released a statement calling Augustus’ shooting “textbook legitimate” and they condemned Johnson for not taking “a stronger stand against the lawless protestors and their false claims.”
Considering one short video was release, Calloway and his lawyer Matt Topic filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit calling for the release of “all audio and video from the fatal shooting of Harith Augustus — not just the selective, incomplete, and edited recording that CPD released to justify the shooting in response to public criticisms and questions.”
Eventually, on August 16, 2018, twenty-three additional items of evidence were released from the CPD, including 18 body cam videos, a police surveillance camera and third-party cameras.
However, the dashcam video, which was released three weeks ago was not included in the 2018 release. This video shows Halley firing at Augustus and it serves as a serious problem for the CPD because it means that they lied to the courts by not releasing all the footage requested. As The Intercept explained, the only excuse for not releasing the video would be a claim of “gross incompetence,” which would be an equal cause for concern.
The situation surrounding the shooting also adds context to the video. According to The Intercept, the day Augustus was shot, he was leaving the barbershop where he worked and started to walk his usual route on 71st Street. Beneath his shirt was his holstered gun. A group of five cops on foot patrol observed “a male suspect exhibiting characteristics of an armed person,” according to the police report. The reason this caused concerned is yet to be determined, considering Illinois is a concealed carry state.
Regardless, Officer Quincy Jones, an older Back cop well-known in the community, called to Augustus to stop. Augustus complied and they had a civil exchange where Augustus took out his wallet to show Jones his Firearm Owners Identification card. Not too long after, the three White officers — all who were rookies — surrounded Augustus. Without a verbal warning and without probably cause to arrest, Officer Megan Fleming got a hold of Augustus’ arm from behind. Startled, Augustus tried to break free and took several stumbling steps into the street. In the process, it seemed his hand touched his holstered gun. This is when Halley shot Augustus five times. He fell on the street holding his FOID card, not his gun, which was still holstered.
Darren Coleman, a security guard, who was beside Jones at the time of the incident was the closest witness and he told The Intercept that Jones was a “seasoned” officer. Meanwhile, the three young White officers “were nervous — I’m being honest — in a Black neighborhood.” He continued by saying that Halley seemed “pumped, ready. It seemed like he had a point to prove.” Coleman believes that nothing would have happened to Augustus if the other White officers hadn’t intervened.
This account along with the newly released dashcam footage further delegitimizes the CPD’s narrative that “an armed confrontation ensued resulting in an officer discharging his weapon and fatally striking the offender.” With the body cam footage, it’s easy for some to view Augustus as the “offender” because his hand went towards his holster at the time he was shot. However, with the dashcam footage, Halley is clearly visible firing his gun. He is the perpetrator of violence.
The fact that the CPD didn’t release this perspective speaks volumes as to how they think the public would have reacted. Maybe more people would understand Halley as an “offender” if the dashcam footage was released. The added context of Augustus simply leaving his place of work only to get killed continues to make the CPD look like a mess of a department.