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Girlfriend's account of Waukegan officer killing Marcellis Stinnette varies greatly from police narrative

Updated 4:07 PM ET, Tue October 27, 2020

(CNN) - The girlfriend of Marcellis Stinnette, who survived the shooting that killed the 19-year-old in Waukegan, Illinois, last week, told reporters Tuesday the police harassed her and Stinnette before opening fire without warning after she drove away.

Following the shooting, she said, police took her away and threw a blanket over Stinnette while he was still breathing.

"I know he was still alive," the 20-year-old mother of two said. She and Stinnette have a 7-month-old son together.

Tafara Williams spoke from her hospital bed, where she is recovering from undisclosed injuries. Unable to hold back tears, someone off camera consoled her, rubbing her arm and shoulder as she spoke via video conference to reporters gathered with her family outside City Hall.

Family members described Williams' strength and Stinnette's "gentle soul," before Williams' mother, Tina Johnson, took the podium and declared, "If America doesn't stop this disease of violence, this could be anyone's child."

"When does it end, America?" family attorney Ben Crump asked. "How many more black people have to be killed because of police brutality, excessive force, implicit bias, (systemic) racism, deliberate indifference? How many more times, America? How many more times do we have to tell our children that this isn't right?

Prosecutor promises to release 'everything'

The officer who killed Stinnette was placed on administrative leave before being fired, Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles said Friday without identifying the lawman or detailing the "multiple policy and procedures violations" the officer allegedly committed.

Relatives applauded the officer's firing, but said they would continue to press for justice in the case that has roiled the Chicago suburb of 86,000 people.

State police are conducting an investigation, which include reviewing bodycams and dashcams, before handing over their findings to Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim, whose office will decide whether to pursue charges.

Nerheim has pledged to make the investigative file public if he does not file criminal charges.

Last week, issuing another statement from her hospital bed, Williams directly addressed the police involved.

"I didn't do nothing wrong," Williams said in a video obtained by CNN affiliate WLS. "I have a license. You didn't tell me I was under arrest. Why did you just flame up my car like that? Why did you shoot?"

Girlfriend's tearful account

Police have accused Williams of fleeing -- after an officer approached what he thought was a suspicious vehicle -- and reversing toward another officer who exited his car after pulling her over about a half mile away. That officer opened fire "in fear for his safety," authorities said.

Williams told a very different story from her hospital bed. She had just put her two babies to bed and gone outside to smoke, she said. She was in the driver seat of her car and Stinnette was in the passenger seat when an officer pulled up with no lights or sirens, she said.

"I rolled down my windows and turned on all the lights inside the car so the officer could see I had no weapons and I wasn't doing anything illegal," Williams said.

The officer referred to Stinnette by name and after confirming Williams' name told her she was "Marcellis' baby mother," before harassing them, she said.

"He stood near the car with his left hand on his gun and he said to Marcellis, 'I know you from jail,'" Williams said.

She asked if they were free to leave, and when the officer took a few steps away from the car, she drove away slowly, she said. The officer didn't turn on his lights, nor did he follow them, she said.

'We don't want to die'

After turning onto another street, Williams said, "There was a crash, and I lost control. The officer was shooting at us. The car ended up slamming into a building."

"I kept screaming, 'I don't have a gun," she said, sobbing uncontrollably, "but he kept shooting, and he told me to get out of the car."

She couldn't move because of her injuries from the gunfire, she said, and she kept asking why he was shooting. More officers arrived and trained their weapons on the car, she said.

"My blood was gushing out of my body. The officer started yelling," she said. "They wouldn't give us an ambulance till we got out the car. When I moved, blood seemed to pour out of my body on the floor of the car, on the ground, everywhere."

She could hear Stinnette breathing, and she pleaded with officers: "Please don't shoot. I have a baby. We have a baby. We don't want to die," she said.

An officer dragged her away from Stinnette, she said, and she begged police to tend to her boyfriend first.

"They ignored me. They laid Marcellis on the ground and covered him up with a blanket while he was still breathing," she said.

Police say Stinnette died after being transported to a hospital.

'She's too strong'

Protesters, along with Stinnette's and Williams' families, have cast doubt on the police narrative and demanded the US Justice Department take over the investigation.

"The police cannot police the police," one of Stinnette's relatives, Satrese Stallworth, said. "They cannot investigate, and they cannot give us fair justice."

Waukegan Police Cmdr. Edgar Navarro has not provided many details but has said Williams was driving in the direction of a Waukegan police officer when he opened fire.

"There was no weapon that was recovered, but the vehicle was reversing towards the officer," he said last week.

The officer who initially approached Williams' vehicle, who is White, was placed on administrative leave, Navarro said. The terminated officer is Hispanic. Both are five-year veterans of the force.

Williams is expected to recover, police said, and Williams' mother described her only daughter as the strongest person she knows.

Her older brother, Eshaunte Williams, echoed the sentiment and recalled what his sister told him when he traveled from Houston to see her in the hospital: "Hey brother, them jokers tried to take me out, man, but I'm too strong."

"She's too strong," he told reporters.

Waukegan, about 45 miles north of Chicago, sits just south of the Wisconsin border. On the other side, about a 30-minute drive away, is Kenosha, Wisconsin, which played host to a high-profile police shooting this summer, when an officer opened fire on 29-year-old Jacob Blake.

Blake survived and was released from a Milwaukee hospital earlier this month. That shooting is under investigation by the Wisconsin Justice Department's division of criminal investigation.


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