AUSTIN — Chicago Police unlawfully burst into an Austin home and awakened two sleeping children with guns pointed at their faces, a lawsuit filed by a West Side family alleges.
The incident that took place Aug. 7, 2019, has left the children struggling with emotional scars and trauma, their father, Steven Winters, said in a federal lawsuit filed against the city and the officers involved. The children were 4 and 9 at the time of the raid.
Officers kicked in the family’s door without a warrant and entered without their consent, the lawsuit says. The officers also did not knock or identify themselves before kicking in the door, the family said.
Bodycam footage obtained by the family’s attorney, Al Hofeld Jr., shows officers rushing into the apartment building up to the third floor where the family lives. An officer kicked at the family’s door and shouted, “Open the door!” the video showed. A few seconds later, the officers kicked the door down and pushed inside with guns drawn, the video showed.
As police raided the home, Winters said, “We’re asleep, man. What’s going on?”
Chicago Police declined to comment on the incident since the lawsuit is ongoing. A statement from spokesperson Don Terry obtained by CBS2 before the lawsuit was filed said the incident took place “three months prior to the implementation of the Department’s Firearm Pointing Incidents directive,” which restricts when officers can point their weapons at suspects.
The updated firearm pointing policy was one of the court-mandated reforms outlined in a federal consent decree. The consent decree reforms stemmed from the fallout surrounding the fatal police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2016 that led to widespread protests and a Justice Department review of the Chicago Police Department.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Thursday news conference that in the years since the raid of the Winters’ home, Chicago Police has updated policies on foot chases and search warrants.
“That was an incident that occurred back in 2019. The rules have changed. There’s always more that we can learn, and the rules changing doesn’t take away that family’s sense of violations and trauma, I understand that. But the rules have been changed,” Lightfoot said.
Citing the Justice Department’s 2017 review of Chicago Police, the lawsuit says the department “has a pattern and practice of using excessive force against citizens, including children.”
The family’s legal complaint said police mistakenly entered the home while searching for two men, one of whom may have had a gun, who were fighting at a nearby gas station.
After entering the apartment, officers forced Winters to the ground and held him down at gunpoint with a knee on his back, the lawsuit says.
When officers searched the young girls’ bedroom, they pointed their guns at the crying girls’ heads, the lawsuit said. One of the girls was so terrified, she wet the bed, the lawsuit says.
Both girls will “require counseling in order to cope with the long-term, psychological injuries inflicted by defendants’ display of excessive force,” the lawsuit says. The children still struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, the lawsuit says, including nightmares, bed-wetting, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, crying fits and fear of police.
The girls’ mother, Jessie Evans, has been on medication to manage depression since the incident. She regularly has “gruesome nightmares of police shooting and killing her family members,” the complaint says.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.