The Illinois State Police announced April 17 that two white, suburban police officers will not be charged with a crime in the February shooting death of a black, autism teenager brought tears to the mother.
“The way they did it, they didn’t have to shoot him,” said Danelene Powell-Watts of her 15 year-old son Stephon Watts, who suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. “They (police) murdered him in cold blood. What they are now calling a justified killing I call murder.”
Following the February 1 incident in south suburban Calumet City the Illinois State Police along with the Cook County State’ Attorney office conducted an independent investigation to determine if the two officers, who fired shots at Watts, was justified in doing so.
Their investigation determined that deadly force was justified after Calumet City police produced a long, steak knife they said Watts used to attack one officer, who suffered minor injuries.
After one officer was allegedly attacked by Watts two other police officers each fired a single shot killing Watts in the basement of his home where his father called police after Watts refused to go to school that day. The two officers had been on administrative leave pending the conclusion of an investigation and are now expected to return to duty next week.
According to Calumet City Police Chief Edward Gilmore, Watts left the officers with no choice but to protect themselves after he threatened their safety.
“At that time, cornered and having no way to retreat back up the stairs, the officers fired one shot each, striking the (boy) twice,” Gilmore said of the 5 foot 10, 220 pounds Watts.
However, Danelene disputes police claim that a steak knife was used by Watts and instead said it was a butter knife.
“My husband knows. I know. His brother knows what kind of knife it was. We were there,” an emotional she said. “My son has been murdered by trained police officers. A great injustice was done to my baby.”
Family members said previously police officers used a Taser to control the boy on previous visits to the home.
“If the policemen had never been out to the house, I can understand that because they don’t know the situation,” said Wayne Watts, the boy’s uncle. “It seems to me they would have known how to deal with the child because they knew him. It’s just too much. He’s gone (and) they knew he was sick.”
The last time police were at the Watts’ home was on Dec, 12, 2011 (Stephon’s birthday). At that time Watts fled the home with a knife in his hand, and officers chased him before subduing him with a Taser. In fact, police had been to the Watts’ home 12 times prior to last week.
The boy’s death has sparked outrage from many in the community.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a civil rights organization in Chicago, said officers clearly did not have to kill him and by doing so the act constitutes excessive force.
“Why did they have to kill this boy? Why couldn’t they use their physical strength to control him?” Jackson said.
Meanwhile, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said race played a part in his killing.
“I do believe race played an important part of this – that if this had been done in a white community, the officers would have had a different attitude about how they approached this child, knowing that this child had autism,” said David Lowery, president of the south suburban branch of the NAACP. “We will not let this rest until the truth of this matter is done.”
Calumet City has a population of 37,042, according to census data. And there are 26,136 black residents and 7,101 whites.
The family plans to speak publically about the incident at an April 23 town hall meeting in Calumet City.