Four years after he was shot and critically wounded by a Des Plaines police officer inside an Irving Park guitar store, 19-year-old Rylan Wilder has reached a settlement worth nearly $2 million.
Wilder’s attorney Tim Cavanagh announced Thursday his client had settled with the city of Des Plaines for $1.9 million, just as they were about to go to trial over his claims that the officer’s actions were excessive and represented willful and wanton conduct.
“It’s pretty nice to have gotten the settlement and this ruling,” Wilder, who was 15 when he was shot, said during a news conference Thursday. “I would like to see a little bit more action on a larger scale, I guess, though to make sure this would never happen again to anybody else.”
Wilder — who has been described as a guitar prodigy and became the youngest person ever to perform at Riot Fest — was inside Upbeat Music & Arts in Chicago on Nov. 19, 2019, when he was shot by a Des Plaines police officer who was trailing an alleged bank robber who had fled into store.
The officer shot and killed 32-year-old Christopher Willis, and also wounded Wilder, an innocent bystander.
Willis and Maurice Murphy had allegedly attempted to rob a Bank of America at gunpoint in Des Plaines. Murphy, the alleged getaway driver, was arrested shortly after the robbery, but Willis stole another vehicle and led officers on a high-speed chase into Chicago.
After exiting I-90, Willis crashed his car on Irving Park Road and fled toward UpBeat, where Wilder was working as an intern. Des Plaines and Chicago police officers arrived on the scene, and Des Plaines police Officer Jimmy Armstrong opened fire, killing Willis and wounding Wilder.
A Chicago police officer was also shot and wounded by Willis, but survived.
Surgeons removed one bullet that was lodged inside Wilder’s stomach, but his left arm was more severely injured, as it was shredded from bicep to forearm. He was hospitalized for two weeks and underwent 18 surgeries, leaving him unsure if he’d ever be able to play guitar again.
On Thursday, Wilder said he’s doing well and “living my life like normal.” He is studying at Columbia College Chicago and has been able to resume his musical career, though he said he’s begun trying different instruments after his injuries limited the dexterity in his left hand, making it more difficult to play guitar.
“My playing is a lot different than it used to be,” he said, “but I’m trying to make it work.”
In addition to the settlement with the city, Wilder also settled with Murphy — who was named in the initial lawsuit the teen’s attorneys filed in 2019 — in the amount of $20 million, though Cavanagh said they do not expect to ever collect that amount.
According to Cavanagh, jury selection was just about to begin in their civil case against Des Plaines when they reached their agreement with the city.
“The facts of this case, we believe this officer could have waited a split second,” Cavanagh said. “The evidence would show that he’d shot Willis in the buttocks and the back. He had a different story.”
In a statement, the city of Des Plaines said it does not admit to “any wrongdoing or liability” through this settlement, but said that after “thoughtful consideration” the city’s insurance company “made the determination to settle the case with the Wilder family.”
The city said Armstrong had yelled at Willis several times for him to drop his gun, and that Armstrong only fired after Willis pointed his gun at him. In its statement, the city claimed Wilder “unfortunately ran in front of Officer Armstrong as he was discharging his weapon” and added that Armstrong was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“This settlement does not reflect the heroic actions that Officer Armstrong took that day, putting his life at risk to save others,” the city said in its statement. “Officer Armstrong is still employed with the City of Des Plaines. Our officers are dedicated to upholding the principles of justice and community service. Our sincere sympathies go out to the Wilder family regarding the injuries Rylan sustained.”
Cavanagh noted that Des Plaines police officials had previously claimed it wasn’t Armstrong who shot Wilder, and added that while the city said it hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing, they still “paid $1.9 million to Rylan Wilder.”
“That’s the admission of fault,” Cavanagh said.