Pay $2M to Family of Man Killed by CPD Officer in 2014, City Lawyers Recommend

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

Chicago taxpayers should pay $2 million to the family of a man shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in 2014 after a foot chase, city lawyers recommended.

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Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, 25, was shot and killed by Officer George Hernandez in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2014, near 53rd Street and King Drive.

Johnson died eight days before now former Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots at Laquan McDonald, killing him. In both shootings, cameras mounted on the dashboards of police cars show officers opening fire within seconds of arriving at the scene. Neither video has audio, as required by department regulations.

The video of Johnson’s shooting was released several weeks after the video of McDonald’s shooting was released, touching off a furor that led to a federal probe and a renewed push to reform the beleaguered Chicago Police Department, which has faced decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality.

While Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder, Chicago’s police misconduct agency cleared Hernandez of wrongdoing and Hernandez, an 18-year veteran of CPD, remains an active member of the police department earning $110,000 annually, according to a police database.

Representatives of CPD did not respond to a question from WTTW News about why Hernandez remains a police officer in good standing.

Former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez declined to file charges against Hernandez in 2015, saying Johnson had a gun when he ran from police and Hernandez acted reasonably when he fired five shots at Johnson, striking him in the shoulder and the back.

The incident that resulted in Johnson’s death began in the early morning hours when the car Johnson and three others were riding in was shot at after the group left a party near Washington Park.

Officers responding to the call of shots fired stopped the car Johnson was in, and attempted to detain him, according to officials. After initially agreeing to comply, Johnson broke free from an officer attempting to handcuff him and ran from the officers, officials said.

Hernandez arrived on the scene at that point, and opened fire on Johnson, killing him, within two seconds of getting out of his car, officials said. A gun was recovered, officials said.

Lawyers for Johnson’s mother, Dorothy Holmes, said the gun officers said belonged to Johnson was planted by officers.

Representatives of the Chicago Police Department told the news media in an official statement that Johnson turned and pointed a gun at officers as he ran, prompting Hernandez to fire in fear of his life. The video of the incident showed that was false, another similarity with the McDonald case.

Hernandez later told investigators he feared Johnson could turn and shoot him at any moment, prompting the decision to open fire.

The video of the incident does not clearly show Johnson holding a gun, but investigators said they were confident an object in Johnson’s hand was a gun. Attorneys for Holmes believe that footage was manipulated.

After her son’s death, Holmes launched an annual holiday toy drive to honor his memory. Johnson, who had five children when he died, loved celebrating Christmas, which was just 11 days after his birthday.

Holmes, who urged officials to charge Hernandez with murder, also became an advocate for police reform after her son’s death and often helps the families of other Chicagoans killed by police officers.

In the past year, Chicago taxpayers have paid at least $5 million to resolve lawsuits that involved foot chases.

A Cook County jury ordered Chicago taxpayers to pay $350,000 to resolve another lawsuit naming Hernandez in 2017. In that case, Hernandez was present when his partner, Officer Robert Gonzalez, shot and killed 17-year-old Christian Green on July 4, 2013, after a foot chase. Like Johnson, Green was shot in the back.

Cases that involved at least one officer with repeated claims of misconduct accounted for 60% of the cost borne by taxpayers to resolve police misconduct cases between 2019 and 2022, according to a WTTW News analysis.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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