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Waukegan chief defends cop's shooting of teen
By Lee Filas and Bob Susnjara | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/14/2008 8:49 PM | Updated: 8/14/2008 9:41 PM

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Waukegan Police Chief Bill Biang said Thursday an officer was justified in shooting a teenager six times and killing him after his colleague was attacked with a hammer Wednesday.

Jeffrey Lewis, 17, was hit in the chest by four bullets, Lake County Coroner Richard Keller said. Any of those bullets would have been fatal, Keller said. Lewis also was shot twice in an arm, he said.

Lewis was killed during an afternoon confrontation with police outside his house on Helmholz Avenue. Police had gone to the home to break up a fight between Lewis and his older brother, Gregory, authorities said.

Biang discussed the incident at a Thursday night news conference attended by Mayor Richard Hyde and other city officials. Biang and the others appealed for Waukegan residents to remain calm while the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force and state's attorney's office review the shooting.

Cops are trained to eliminate a threat, not to shoot to wound, Biang said

"Deadly force is justified in a situation like this. Six shots is not an unusual amount in a situation like this," Biang said.

Neither officer has been publicly identified. One reportedly was a sergeant who was training the other, a rookie just five weeks out of the police academy.

The sergeant shot Lewis after the teen hit the rookie officer with a hammer, Keller said. Lewis was pronounced dead on the scene.

The officer who was hit with the hammer received staples in his head at Lake Forest Hospital and was released late Wednesday. Biang said the officer who shot Lewis underwent stress-related treatment.

Biang said that officer will remain on administrative leave with pay until the shooting investigation is complete.

Alderman Samuel Cunningham Jr., who represents the south Waukegan area where the shooting occurred, said he was stunned Lewis was shot by police. He said Lewis comes from a good family, and he's known the teenager's parents for several years.

Cunningham said the Lewis brothers were caring for their ill mother, Margaret Rollins, for about the past two years. He said the brothers took their mother to dialysis treatments, cooked meals and paid bills.

"These boys were handling the responsibilities of an adult," Cunningham said. "That's what's so baffling. What the heck happened?"

Eyewitness accounts of the incident gathered by the task force are consistent with what the officers told investigators for an internal Waukegan police probe, Biang said. He said the officer shot Lewis with a .45-caliber weapon that held 15 rounds.

"We've seen in-car video of a portion of what took place, and the officer had a split-second to make a decision," he said. "It was not like he had time to warn or do anything else."

"Jeffrey apparently reared back with the hammer a second time, and that's the time when the officer took action and shot," Biang said.

Biang said he doesn't know what led to the fight between Lewis and his 24-year-old brother, other than "it was brewing all day."

Officials said they're aware some Waukegan residents are upset, particularly those in the area where Lewis was killed by police. The teenager's father, Curtis Lewis, joined officials in asking the community to be patient until all the facts are out.

"I just want the rest of my family and the neighborhood to know, don't do nothing hasty," Curtis Lewis said. "There is an answer to this problem, but we've got to find it. Fighting violence with violence is not the answer, so just calm down and let the investigation run its course."

After the news conference, a crowd of about 60 gathered in the front yard of Lewis' home Thursday evening. Some of the supporters had balloons and candles, and at one point they sang "We Shall Overcome."

Community activist Chris "Brotha" Blanks encouraged the crowd to attend a march and rally at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 6 from North Chicago to downtown Waukegan over what he contends is "misuse and abuse of police and political power."

Lewis played football at Waukegan High School as a junior last year. Principal Steve Hamlin said Athletic Director David Perkins led a prayer with the varsity football team Thursday, and grief counselors were available for the players. The school provided counselors for Lewis' brother and mother Thursday.

Meanwhile, Waukegan spokesman David Motley expects the shooting will be a topic of discussion at the next city council meeting, set for Monday night.

Cunningham said his thoughts are with Lewis' family and the two officers. He said it's too soon to pass judgment on the case.

"I want to wait until the official police investigation is completed," he said.

• Daily Herald staff writer Russell Lissau contributed to this report.

Shooting: Alderman says brothers were caring for sick mother