The family of twenty-two year-old Rekia Boyd, who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer, was awarded $4.5 million in a wrongful death settlement in 2013. Yet, just over two years later, the officer who fired the shot that hit Boyd in her head has been found “not guilty” by a judge of crimes he was charged with in relation to her death.
The defense for Chicago police officer Dante Servin requested a “directed verdict” from Judge Dennis Porter, who was hearing the case in the bench trial. Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless discharge of a firearm and reckless conduct and essentially Porter was asked to determine that the prosecutors had no evidence to continue the trial against Servin.
In a surprise and stunning development, the judge ruled, “It would be improper to permit the trial to continue given the total failure of proof on the issue of recklessness. Simply put, the evidence presented in this case does not support the charges on which the defendant was indicted and tried.”
The dismissal of all charges against Servin led Rekia’s brother, Martinez Sutton, to express his outrage in the courtroom.
Deputies in the courthouse proceeded to remove Boyd’s family from the courtroom.
Later, after Sutton was released from custody, he declared outside the courthouse, “I was promised by [Cook County State Prosecutor] Anita Alvarez that they were going to take this officer down.”
“I really didn’t expect it to happen in this case,” that the officer would be found guilty. Sutton recognized there were officers killing people in videos who were getting away with shootings. “But I had faith. I had hope. I thought that maybe the judge would grow a heart but just like the Tin Man he never had one.”
Servin said, “Justice was served today. I always maintained that it was an accident that occurred to Ms. Boyd.” It was a “tragic accident.”
On March 21, 2012, Servin, who was off-duty at the time, responded to a 911 call complaining about noise in Douglas Park from partying, fighting and smoking. Servin stopped his car in an alley by the park and confronted a twenty year-old woman, Rekia Boyd, her friend, Ikca Beamon, and two young men, Antonio Cross and Marteece. When the two young men talked back to Servin, that infuriated Servin. He slowly drove his car out of the alley, pulled out his Glock 26 9mm, reached across his body and fired his weapon at Boyd and her friends.
Servin hit Cross in his hand. One of the other bullets fired struck Boyd in the left side of her head. The bullet ricocheted inside her head, “left to right, back to front and then slightly upward,” according to her autopsy. She collapsed to the ground and died from the gunshot wound.
In the decision, the judge seemed to suggest that state prosecutors may have had a first-degree murder case if they had charged Servin with that greater offense.
He included the criteria for proving first-degree murder:
Porter added, “In this case, the evidence is virtually uncontroverted and the State has proven the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not contested that the defendant fired the shots, which killed Rekia Boyd.”
“Likewise, it is beyond question that the defendant fired shots intending to kill or knew his acts would cause death or knew his acts created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to Antonio Cross. He fired five times and the last three, he “had him in his sights.” (And it does not matter that he was supposedly not trying to kill Boyd.)
Who is more responsible for this outcome? The prosecutors or the judge, whose ruling understandingly infuriated Boyd’s family and those who have demanded justice?
It all goes back to how the prosecutors presented their case against Servin during opening argument. They argued officers are deployed to “serve and protect.” They suggested “our officers” typically “live up” to a “tradition of excellence,” meaning they don’t recklessly shoot civilians while off-duty. Servin’s case, however, was the “exception to the rule.”
Truthout investigative reporter Sarah Macaraeg recently studied 25 fatal shooting cases in 2012 in 2013 that the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) closed. “All of the shootings were deemed justified,” acccording to Macaraeg. “Investigations lasted an average of 16 months—10 months beyond the time limit recommended by the US Department of Justice. Among them is the killing of Black 20-year-old Michael Wilson, who was in possession of a hammer when shot by six officers, who collectively discharged 24 bullets.”
The Chicago Tribune has reported on how Chicago police often lead the country in shootings. Thirty-six people were shot in 2013, 26 who were black males. By August 2014, police had shot 34 people. So, there are a number of officers like Servin—except those officers have not been charged by prosecutors.
There is an institutional racism coupled with a systemic reluctance to hold law enforcement officers accountable for crimes committed, including torture. After all, this is the same police force that got away with torture for two decades and continued to avoid prosecution until the statute of limitations elapsed. Typically, police are not held accountable and shootings are almost always deemed to be “justifiable homicides.”
When the state prosecutors felt pressured to charge Servin, they did not want to go all in and charge him with first-degree murder, even if they had a case. They did not want to pursue a case where they argued a police officer had intentionally tried to kill in cold blood and killed someone else because he was a poor shot. So, they compromised and decided to get him for being reckless.
The only problem is that had he been convicted he would likely have only served a few years in prison, if that. Does that punishment even begin to come close to fitting the nature of the crime?
More significantly, this was no accident. He knew firing his weapon would endanger Rekia Boyd and those that were with her. Servin did not care.
The local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) spokesperson, Pat Camden, claimed one of the individuals in the group had a weapon and that would come out during trial. Servin very deliberately used fabrications to ensure his word against Cross’ would be taken more seriously in the trial. He maintained he saw a weapon. It was a cellphone but still the argument could have its intended effect even if he was shown to be wrong.
Prosecutors could have easily brought a first degree murder case against Servin, but they did not. They wanted this case to be about someone who made a mistake that destroyed his career as a police officer. They did not want this to be about a man who was a murderer.
In the end, the state’s unwillingness to approach this case in a manner that truly put a value on Rekia Boyd’s life is likely what led to the harsh outcome. It is also, perhaps, why Alvarez did not speak to the press after the verdict was announced in court.