A Waukegan teenager had just stolen a handgun from another man when he was shot and killed by Zion police during a foot chase, authorities said late Monday.
The man told police he had arranged to meet with 17-year-old Justus Howell in Zion on Saturday afternoon to sell him the weapon, officials said. But then Howell tried to take the gun from him without paying for it and the two struggled over the weapon before Howell fled with the weapon when police showed up, according to a news release from Zion police.
The new details from police emerged after family members of Howell and local activists had raised questions about the circumstances of the shooting and said they wanted more information.
The Lake County coroner’s office reported Monday that Howell died from two gunshot wounds to his back. One bullet penetrated his heart, spleen and liver, and the other entered his right shoulder, according to a coroner’s news release on the autopsy.
The Lake County Major Crime Task Force continued to gather evidence and interview witnesses to the shooting, Cmdr. George Filenko said Monday. Zion police said the officer who was involved has been placed on leave while the investigation proceeds. They did not name the officer but said he is 32 and a nine-year department veteran.
The other man police said was involved in the gun transaction, Tramond Peet, 18, of Lindenhurst, was arrested and charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, according to the Zion police news release. He appeared at a court hearing Monday in Lake County at which his bond was set at $15,000, police said.
Zion police had issued a statement Saturday saying the shooting occurred after they responded to a caller who reported hearing a single gunshot during “an argument or fight” on Gilead Avenue about 2 p.m. When police arrived, a male subject ran from the scene, prompting a foot chase. Police had said a handgun was found at the scene.
Police said officers provided medical attention to Howell before he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Asked about the new information Zion police released Monday night, Justus Howell’s uncle, Dennis Howell, noted that police did not say Justus possessed the gun at the moment he was shot, only that he had the gun before. Dennis Howell noted reports from witnesses who said Justus Howell did not have a gun when he was shot.
“That needs to be taken into consideration,” Dennis Howell said.
A cousin, Shaqurah Bell, said: “I just want justice for Justus. I never thought it would happen to my family. He didn’t deserve this. We are praying for him.”
Family members said Howell enjoyed basketball and rapped using the name “Meachi.” Another cousin, Desiarell Howell, said Justus rapped about things he wanted to do with his life, which she said included someday attending medical school.
“He didn’t want (his family) to hurt money-wise. He wanted his family to succeed,” the cousin said.
Dennis Howell said that while the family has deep roots in Lake County, his nephew had recently moved to Waukegan from Wisconsin.
“He was on the path of getting back in school and getting his life in line. He was beginning to take the path to lead to a better life,” Dennis Howell said.
He declined to elaborate on his nephew’s past troubles.
A Waukegan School District 60 spokesman said Justus Howell had transferred into the district in February and had been placed at the privately run Lake Shore Academy, which serves students “who are at risk of extensive suspension and/or expulsion,” according to a District 60 website.
In the news release late Monday, Zion police said they had encountered Peet on Saturday when he was pulled over on a traffic violation and was found to be in possession of a handgun magazine. After Peet was detained for questioning, police said, he told them he had met Howell in Zion with the intent of selling him a handgun.
Police said Peet told them Howell tried to take the gun without paying for it, that the two struggled over the gun and that Howell pointed the gun at Peet at one point. When Peet saw police cars arriving, he let go of the weapon and, before fleeing himself, saw Howell run off with the gun still in his hand. Peet said he saw police chase after Howell, heard officers giving him commands and then heard gunfire, according to the police release.
Zion police noted also that although Coroner Thomas Rudd’s office released the details earlier Monday about Howell having been shot in the back, the autopsy report had not been completed or released to the police task force investigating the shooting.
The Police Department said it released the new details reluctantly.
“The Zion Police has no desire to defame the deceased and cause further pain to the family of Justus Howell,” the release said. “At the same time we are aware of the public’s need to know, with confidence, the events resulting in (the police call).”
Source: Chicago Tribune