Antwon Golatte lifted his shirt to reveal the wide, dark scars of three bullet holes and two surgeries.
“I always said I was innocent,” said Golatte, 35, speaking to reporters for the first time since he was shot by police officers on the south side of Chicago in February 2015.
On Thursday, the city’s independent police review authority (IPRA) ruled that officers were unjustified in shooting Golatte. Their investigation contradicted officers’ contention that they shot him in self-defense, believing that Golatte was trying to run them over with his SUV.
“It was real, real painful … walking is hard for me, I can’t sit or stand for long periods of time, I have permanent nerve damage,” he said.
He said he thinks about the incident every day. “I’ll never be the same again.”
But Golatte and his lawyers said they think IPRA’s ruling signals that the movement for police accountability in Chicago may finally be having some effect.
“If IPRA is going to start stepping forward and giving some kind of fairness back to communities and other cities start following their lead, that stops all this chaos and madness out there of cops versus communities,” said Chris Stewart, an Atlanta-based attorney working with Golatte who also represents the family of Alton Sterling, killed by police in Baton Rouge earlier this month. “Because all people in communities want to know is we’re going to be treated fairly … If someone gets shot, investigate fairly. That’s pretty reasonable.”
In December, Mayor Rahm Emanuel replaced the head of the oversight board with former federal prosecutor Sharon Fairley. Since Fairley took over, IPRA has found three shootings by police unjustified, compared with finding only two shootings unjustified between 2007 and the end of 2015.
The vindication for Golatte comes after what he described as a long history of police harassment. He said officers sat in their cars for hours outside his home, and searched the building he rented out to tenants.
Two days before the shooting, Golatte’s attorney Danielle Pinkston said, the same officers had searched Golatte’s car without a warrant, while he left it running to warm up before taking a friend to the store.
Golatte said he felt police were trying to punish him for past transgressions – a period when he was “running with the wrong crowd” – even though he had turned his life around. And though he said he documented the alleged harassment, he never considered making a complaint to IPRA.
“Let’s be honest, in the inner city you just suck it up,” said Stewart. “Because you know if you go tell, if you go to the police station, they’re going to say ‘get out of here’ or just ignore you.”
When officers pulled Golatte over on 7 February 2015, during what they described as a narcotics investigation, Golatte said, “I knew that my life was in danger. There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt.”
Golatte is still facing four felony charges of aggravated battery to peace officers and a charge of damage to government property, Pinkston said. She said they are demanding state’s attorney Anita Alvarez drop the charges in light of IPRA’s findings. Alvarez is in her last months on the job, as she lost a Democratic primary amid allegations that she was too lenient on officers accused of misconduct.
Stewart said Golatte has trouble finding a job because employers find news stories describing the officers’ allegations, now debunked by IPRA.
“That’s a big deal,” said Stewart. “If you look him up online, it looks like he tried to run over four officers … And it’s just not true.”
The officers involved
Golatte said he wants to see all four officers involved in his shooting dropped from the force.
A Chicago police department spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said: “[the department] will be reviewing the investigative findings and conferring with IPRA on any disciplinary recommendations. It is premature for us to make any additional comment at this point.”
The officers who fired their weapons at Golatte are Jaime Gaeta and Harry Matheos.
The other two officers involved were not named publicly. The Citizens Police Data Project, a database run by the not-for-profit Invisible Institute, lists 20 misconduct complaints against Gaeta, including 13 wrongful use of force complaints. IPRA found one of the complaints sustained, a 2010 incident involving mishandling and premature discharge of a gun, with no one injured. The data project shows 14 misconduct complaints naming Matheos, including multiple illegal search complaints and one alleging unjustified use of force. IPRA did not find any of those complaints sustained.
Emanuel has promised to replace IPRA entirely with an independent civilian police review council. Residents have long been calling for such a council, and the proposal gained steam after the release last fall of a video of officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down Laquan McDonald.
Even as reforms move forward, new proposals have threatened to move progress in the other direction. The city council is considering an ordinance known as Blue Lives Matter, similar to proposals nationwide, that would designate attacks on officers and firefighters as hate crimes.
Since Wednesday, activists and victims of police misconduct have been occupying an area outside the Homan Square police facility to protest against that ordinance. The Homan Square site on the city’s west side has long been used for interrogations, often for prolonged periods, without lawyers being notified or granted access and without charges being filed, as the Guardian first reported.