CHICAGO (AP) — Trial opened Monday in a federal lawsuit brought by a man seeking millions of dollars in damages after he was shot multiple times by Chicago police officers responding to a robbery at his store.
The civil trial against the officers is one of the first excessive force cases against the Chicago Police Department to go before a federal jury since widespread protests and a department shake-up followed the release last year of a dashcam video showing an officer shooting teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times.
In the lawsuit, Bassil Abdelal, the owner of a beauty supply store, contends police shot him on March 14, 2012, after he picked up a firearm for protection after gunmen had robbed the store. He said he grabbed the gun out of fear that the gunmen were still close by, and that the officers fired as he started to step outside. He filed a lawsuit seeking $10 million in damages.
Officers say the shooting was justified because Abdelal pointed a handgun at them. But he claims he had dropped the gun when he saw police arrive, and that officers saw he was no longer armed. He alleges the officers kept shooting even as he lay on the ground after having been shot in the leg.
A lawyer for the officers pulled the large, chrome-plated handgun from a box and held it up for jurors during her Monday opening statement, saying it's what the officers saw Abdelal pointing by his storefront door.
"They saw a man point a gun — not a man acting like a victim," said Marion Moore. "The reason the plaintiff was shot is he made a decision to walk out of the store holding this gun."
Plaintiff's attorney Brendan Gallagher told jurors police acted hastily, and he alleged that officers on the scene have offered contradictory accounts of the shooting.
"They shot the victim of a crime when they didn't need to and then concocted a story" about what happened, Gallagher said.
Among the injuries Abdelal suffered, he added, was a shattered leg bone, which still prevents him from running or taking part in sports. Abdelal's original lawsuit says he was shot 11 times, but Gallagher said repeatedly during his opening statement that he was shot six times. He didn't explain the different number.
A damage award in Abdelal's case would be the latest financial setback to a city that has paid $662 million on police misconduct cases in the last 12 years.
Attorneys for the officers in the case had asked that the trial be delayed soon after the release last year of the video of white police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting McDonald. The attorneys were concerned that the three officers' chances at a fair trial could be compromised because of publicity over the shooting.
"The current media environment will make it impossible for Defendants to receive a fair trial by unbiased and impartial jurors," the attorneys wrote in a motion requesting the delay. Starting the trial during such a volatile time could result in a jury that "elects to send a message to Defendant City of Chicago and the Chicago Police department by punishing these three uninvolved and blameless officers."
Van Dyke is charged with first-degree murder. Last month, a task force appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a blistering report against the police department, calling it out for patterns of racism, excessive force and a "code of silence" among officers that prevents accountability for wrongful behavior.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer said she expected the trial to last about two days.
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct that the shooting happened in 2012, not 2002.