Jury deciding whether Chicago police shooting of black teen was justified

Reuters News
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Posted: May 19, 2015 4:02 PM

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A civil trial jury was deliberating on Tuesday whether a Chicago police officer should be held responsible for the alleged use of unjustified force in the 2011 fatal shooting of an 18-year-old black man.

Plaintiff Wanda Edwards is seeking unspecified damages for the death of her son, Parise Mercer, in a trial that began last week against a backdrop of rising scrutiny over police conduct toward African Americans.

Officer Noel Morgan, the defendant, who also is black, was trying to arrest Mercer after a July shooting outside a restaurant. Authorities said Mercer ran and pointed a gun at Morgan and his partner, Tracy Adler. Both officers fired and Mercer was struck by one bullet in the back and died.

Edwards has argued that her son was not the shooter in the incident that brought police to the scene and did not have a gun. She filed a claim against Morgan under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits excessive force. Initial claims against Adler and the city of Chicago were dropped.

Edwards' attorneys portrayed Mercer as an innocent bystander picking up a carry-out order when shots rang out.

"He was the unlucky guy who happened to be the last one running from the scene," Brendan Shiller, who is representing the plaintiff, told an eight-member jury.

"If he was shot in the back, that's unreasonable. If he was shot in the back and didn't have a gun, that's even more unreasonable," Shiller said in his closing argument.

Witnesses said the shooter had long hair, a white shirt and was taller and heavier than Mercer, who was short and slim and wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt.

No gun was found on Mercer but one was discovered in a nearby flowerbed. Edwards' attorneys claim police planted the gun to justify the shooting.

The defense has argued that the officers' use of their weapons was reasonable under the circumstances.

"No one wanted to kill anyone that night," attorney Jordan Marsh said in defense of Morgan. "The way it worked out was not the way that anyone wished. But they did their jobs."

Chicago last year paid out $50 million in settlements and judgments in civil cases alleging police wrongdoing. More than 40 lawsuits alleging police misconduct went to trial last year. Chicago prevails in about 75 percent of the trials, according to the city's law department.

(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Bill Trott)