UPDATE 4:20 p.m. August 30, 2016
DECATUR – Decatur police officer Andrew Wittmer was fully justified in his shooting of Lonnie D. Mitchell, it was announced Tuesday.
Macon County State's Attorney Jay Scott said the use of deadly force against the 40-year-old Mitchell, who was armed with a knife strapped to his wrist and a BB gun that looked like a semiautomatic handgun, broke no laws.
Wittmer, who has served with the police department for five years, is now cleared to come back to work, having been on leave while the shooting was investigated by the Illinois State Police, which is usual procedure. The voluminous report into the shooting was reviewed by Scott before making his decision.
Mitchell had been shot in the early hours of July 11 in the 100 block of South Hilton Street. He was treated at at local hospital for a gunshot wound to the right side of his body between chest and hip and continues to recover.
Scott, speaking at a news conference in the Macon County Office Building, replayed a dramatic video of the incident captured on a squad car camera. It showed Wittmer ordering a shirtless Mitchell to stop as he walked crossed the street with a knife attached to his arm by a studded leather cuff and the gun tucked into the waistband of his camouflage shorts.
Mitchell, who walks out of the picture while Wittmer can still be seen clearly, is heard telling the officer he has a knife and what he refers to repeatedly as a pistol. Wittmer tells him to put his hands on his head and repeatedly orders him to lie down in the street, warning him not to reach for any of the weapons.
“Don't go for that or you'll get shot, man,” Wittmer said at one point.
But Mitchell doesn't appear to take any notice and at one point tells Wittmer to “come grab it,” referring to his weapons. “I'm not going to grab it, I want you to lay down,” Wittmer replies. A woman in the crowd watching the encounter calls out to Mitchell “Lay down, baby, do what he tell you to do. Lay down,” but Mitchell remains standing.
He then unbuckles the knife which falls to the road with a clatter and some moments later both Wittmer and officer Jason Danner say they saw Mitchell move his right hand directly toward the BB pistol they believed was a firearm.
That is when Wittmer shot him.
Mitchell collapses off camera, and Scott said the officers on scene immediately called for an ambulance and began rendering first aid. Decatur Ambulance personnel arrived within seven minutes, and Mitchell was rushed to HSHS St. Mary's Hospital and then air-lifted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.
Later, as he recovered from surgery, he refused to talk to state police investigators.
“Pursuant to Illinois state statute, a law enforcement officer is justified in the use of force likely to result in death or great bodily harm when he reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another,” Scott said.
“After a careful review of reports and materials generated by the Illinois State Police investigation, it is the conclusion of the Macon County State's Attorney's Office that officer Wittmer reasonably believed that the force he used was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another when he discharged his service weapon at Lonnie Mitchell.”
Scott went on to say that “any reasonable person would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary under these circumstances.”
Scott also said the circumstances leading up to the situation facing police officers had to be considered, along with Mitchell's behavior. The state's attorney displayed pictures of Mitchell taken from Facebook that showed him posing, gangster-style, with a knife strapped to his wrist and what look like handguns tucked into the waistband of his pants, pretty much as he appeared when police confronted him in the street.
Scott said patrol officers had responded to the area after receiving calls from a citizen who lives in the neighborhood who said they had seen an armed man arguing with a woman. Two previous calls from this same citizen earlier in July and in May had resulted in several arrests and the recovery of loaded handguns.
Bearing all that in mind, Scott said police found themselves facing a man armed with what appeared to be a firearm who refused to cooperate with them.
“Mr. Mitchell's conduct that night, in refusing to obey the lawful commands of officer Wittmer, constitutes the criminal offense of resisting or obstructing a peace officer,” Scott said.
But, having stated that, he said no charges will be pursued against Mitchell.
“After consulting with Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz, we are in agreement that, given the circumstances involved, no criminal prosecution of Mr. Mitchell will be initiated,” Scott said.
Asked later why not, Scott said all the “pros and cons” had been weighed in discussion with Getz and with Scott's first assistant and with his chief investigator.
“This individual (Mitchell) did end up being shot and was laid up in hospital for a while, and we decided, came to a group consensus, that it was best to put this behind us and move on,” Scott added.
The state's attorney was flanked by Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, Getz and Jeanelle Norman, president of the Decatur branch of the NAACP, as he spoke.
Getz and Norman said the city's population, which has staged prayer and community meetings in the wake of the shooting that involved a white officer and a black suspect, had behaved with commendable calm and patience.
“I believe the city of Decatur is a community that has shown other communities how to respond during rough times,” Getz said. “I believe we can continue to be a model for other communities as we move forward.”
Norman, who also spoke on behalf of Area Leaders, Educators Response Team, or ALERT, which is a group of community activists who work to spread correct information and counter false rumors in the wake of traumatic events, said Getz had acted throughout with “transparency” and provided full access to concerned citizens.
“We thank God that no loss of life happened,” she said, accepting the findings of Scott's review of the case. “And because of what has transpired ... we are building better relationships between the African-American community and the city, and especially the police department. I can truly say today that I am a proud citizen of Decatur, Ill.”
One question remaining is whether equipping police with body cameras would make any similar incidents in the future easier to review and investigate. Scott said a body camera in Mitchell's case would “likely have caught more of the details,” and Getz said he's looking at the issue.
“We're reviewing the possibility of using body cameras,” he said.
ORIGINAL STORY 11:29 a.m. August 30, 2016
DECATUR – Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott will not file charges against the Decatur police officer who shot an armed man in July.
“Any reasonable person would have believed the use of deadly force was necessary,” Scott said during a news conference Tuesday at the Macon County Office Building during which the decision was announced.
Officer Andrew Wittmer, who has five years of experience with the Decatur Police Department, shot 40-year-old Lonnie D. Mitchell II in the chest in the early hours of July 11. Mitchell, who was armed with a knife and a BB gun that resembled a semiautomatic handgun, is expected to make a full recovery from the injury.
A police car video, which was played during the news confrence, showed Mitchell telling Wittmer he had a knife and a pistol and telling Wittmer to take the weapons from him. Wittmer made repeated orders for Mitchell drop the weapons and to get on the ground. After Mitchell appeared to reached for the “pistol,” Wittmer discharged his weapon.
The Illinois State Police handled the investigation, which was completed and given to Scott’s office earlier this month.
The incident comes at a time of heightened focus on officer-involved shootings nationally. Though Wittmer is white and Mitchell is black, Decatur did not experience the same unrest that other communities faced in the aftermath of similar shootings.
Officials have credited that in part to the help of the ALERT, or Area Leaders Educators Response Team, who also attended the Tuesday news conference.
This story will be updated.