Benjamin Crump, the acclaimed civil rights attorney, is representing Tafara Williams, who was shot and seriously injured, and her boyfriend killed by police, last week in suburban Illinois, according to a news release. The shooting of the unarmed couple sparked protests across the nation against repeated violence against Black bodies by law enforcement officers.
Williams, 20, of Waukegan, Illinois, was shot and seriously injured Tuesday night (October 20) alongside her boyfriend, Marcellis Stinnette, 19, when an Hispanic male officer shot into the couple’s car because it went into reverse when he approached it and he feared for his safety. No firearm was found in the vehicle, Reuters writes.
“Ms. Williams’ legal team will begin our own investigation into what happened during that incident,” Crump says in the statement, “because we do not trust the police narrative in this case. We have seen over and over that the ‘official’ report when police kill Black people is far too often missing or misrepresenting details. We will share our findings with the public when we have uncovered the truth.”
Crump will be joined by Antonio Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, a Chicago-based practice dedicated to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death.
Further, Romanucci adds that police departments across America need to reform officer training, accountability, transparency and more.
“This legal team is fighting for justice across the nation, as our collective awareness grows to the unfair, excessive and deadly force used against Black members of our community,” Romanucci says in the statement.
Crump and Romanucci together have represented the families of George Floyd, Daniel Prude, Byron Williams, and other victims of excessive police force.
The mayor of Waukegan, Ill., is pleading for calm in the Chicago suburb after police shot an unarmed Black couple, killing one and seriously wounding the other. The incident has spurred anger and protests, adding to the cries for social justice that have crisscrossed the nation over the past several months.
"This is tough on Waukegan. This is tough on this community," Mayor Sam Cunningham said at a Wednesday news conference. "I know these families personally."
Relatives identified the couple as Marcellis Stinnette, 19, and his girlfriend and mother of his child Tafara Williams. The young man died of his injuries at a nearby hospital. The young woman remains in serious condition, but is expected to survive.
Williams’ mother, Clifftina Johnson, said that her daughter, who was driving, told her that an officer walked up to their vehicle late Tuesday night and opened fire on the car “for nothing.”
"When I got there, she said, "Mama, they just shot us for nothing," Johnson told Chicago station WLS-TV. "My daughter said she put her hand up, and if she didn't put her hand up, she said, 'Mama, I would be dead.' "
According to the station, Williams said from her hospital bed that she was not told she was under arrest and said she did nothing wrong.
Police said they had received a report of a suspicious vehicle before midnight Tuesday, but Williams’ family said the couple was only sitting in the car. When an officer went to investigate, the car simply drove off, according to police. A second officer spotted the car in a different location and when the car went into reverse, he opened fire. No weapon was found in the vehicle. The identity of the officer involved has not been released, but he is described as Latino and a five-year veteran of the Waukegan Police Department.
But Johnson said she does not believe the police version of what happened to Williams and her boyfriend.
A witness to the shooting has also disputed what the police have said. "The police officer got out of the car. When he told them to stop, he told her to stop, she was scared. She put her up hands, she started yelling, 'Why you got a gun?' She started screaming. He just started shooting," said Darrell Mosier during a demonstration, according to WLS.
"I heard the girl. Her hands went up. She said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I didn't mean it. I didn't try to run you over. We got no guns or nothing,'"
Mayor Cunningham said the incident has left him in fear of what could happen, given the consistent demonstrations against these exact types of incidents. He said his familiarity with the area in which it happened unnerves him.
"I'm a Black man who grew up in that same neighborhood. It could have been me," he said during the press conference. "I'm nervous because there's a lot of uncertainty out there. There's a lot of rumors flying around. We're begging, whatever information you have, get it to us. Whatever footage that you have, get it to us. We've seen this play out throughout this country, but it just rips through communities."
The Illinois State Police are investigating the shooting. Body camera and squad car video were turned over to their department, according to Waukegan Police Department Commander Edgar Navarro. After state police are finished, it will go to Lake County Attorney Mike Nerheim.
Demonstrators marched through the streets of Waukegan this week calling for justice. Stinnette’s mother only had a brief remark about her son’s death.
"And the police officer, he's forgiven," said Sherrellis Sheria Stinnette,” according to WLS. "I have to forgive him. That's what God wants me to do."
His sister, Zhanellis Banks, was more specific. "We would like justice, but we also would like police reform.”
BET has been covering every angle of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other social justice cases and the subsequent aftermath and protests. For our continuing coverage, click here.