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After shooting by Chicago police, family seeks special prosecutor for 2011 killing

Emmett+Farmer%2C+51%2C+father+of+Flint+Farmer%2C+poses+for+portrait+with+a+poster+at+his+home+in+Sauk+Village%2C+Illinois%2C+October+21%2C+2011.+Flint+Farmer%2C+29%2C+was+unarmed+when+he+was+shot+and+killed+by+a+police+officer+in+June.+%28Zbigniew+Bzdak%2FChicago+Tribune%2FMCT%29
Emmett Farmer, 51, father of Flint Farmer, poses for portrait with a poster at his home in Sauk Village, Illinois, October 21, 2011. Flint Farmer, 29, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a police officer in June. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

Emmett Farmer, 51, father of Flint Farmer, poses for portrait with a poster at his home in Sauk Village, Illinois, October 21, 2011. Flint Farmer, 29, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a police officer in June. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

MCT

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Emmett Farmer, 51, father of Flint Farmer, poses for portrait with a poster at his home in Sauk Village, Illinois, October 21, 2011. Flint Farmer, 29, was unarmed when he was shot and killed by a police officer in June. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

By Jeremy Gorner | Chicago Tribune

The family of a man who was fatally shot more than six years ago by a Chicago police officer — the officer’s third shooting in six months — petitioned Thursday for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate whether criminal charges should be filed.

Flint Farmer was unarmed, carrying only a cellphone, when he was shot and killed by then-Officer Gildardo Sierra in July 2011 in an on-duty incident captured in part by a police dashboard camera.

The Chicago Tribune first reported about Sierra that fall after learning the Farmer incident was the officer’s third shooting that year. Sierra, who resigned from the Police Department in 2015, admitted to drinking multiple beers before starting the shift on the night he shot Farmer, court records show. In a lawsuit over the shooting, Farmer’s girlfriend, who had a son with him, settled with the city for $4.1 million.

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In 2013, then-Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez declined to charge Sierra, saying the officer had reason to believe Farmer was armed and posed a threat. The FBI had also been looking into the shooting, but it was unclear what had ever become of that investigation.

Last year, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, the agency that investigates shootings by Chicago police officers, determined Sierra was unjustified in shooting Farmer — a rare ruling by the agency.

At a news conference Thursday, Farmer’s father, Emmett, said he is seeking a special prosecutor in an attempt “to get justice for my son.”

Farmer said State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office declined to revisit the case, citing “some letter” Alvarez sent to then-Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy when she declined to purse criminal charges.

Lawyers on behalf of Farmer filed a petition Thursday with Leroy Martin, presiding judge of Cook County’s criminal division, asking that he appoint a special prosecutor.

“I just believe that now is the time for someone to do something,” Farmer told reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

Foxx has explained in the past that she believes the state’s attorney’s office has an “inherent” conflict of interest in prosecuting police-involved shootings because of its apparent close working relationship with the police.

Her office did not have an immediate comment to Farmer’s petition for a special prosecutor, and Sierra could not be reached for comment.

More than six years after the shooting, Farmer said he still feels the pain of losing his son.

“I cry from time to time when I think about it,” he said. “But I always have hope that justice is going to prevail. I’m not going to give up until it does.”

Activist William Calloway said he’s optimistic about the appointment of a special prosecutor in the case, calling the climate for that “appropriate.”

The court-ordered release in November 2015 of the video of an officer shooting teen Laquan McDonald 16 times has sparked protests, political turmoil, promises of systemic change from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that blasted police for routinely abusing citizens’ civil rights.

Farmer was shot on the South Side during the early morning hours of June 7, 2011, when Sierra and a partner, assigned to the Englewood police district, responded to a call of a domestic disturbance allegedly involving Farmer and his girlfriend in the 6200 block of South Honore Avenue.

“My baby daddy, he just jumped on me and he just beat up on me and my kids real bad,” Farmer’s girlfriend, Tanesha Whitaker, could be heard saying on a 911 call that Alvarez’s prosecutors played for Tribune reporters when they explained during a 2013 interview why they chose to not charge Sierra.

When police arrived, Farmer fled to South Wolcott Avenue, one street west. He got as far as the parkway when Sierra reportedly yelled at him.

Prosecutors said Farmer, 29 and unemployed, pointed his burgundy cellphone at Sierra, prompting the officer to fire all 16 rounds from his handgun. A patrol car that arrived during the brief confrontation captured video of Sierra as he stepped onto the parkway, walked around the injured and unarmed Farmer in a semicircle and fired three more shots.

An autopsy by the Cook County medical examiner’s office showed that the three shots in Farmer’s upper back were the fatal wounds.

Before Farmer’s death, Sierra had fatally shot Darius Pinex, 27, in January 2011 and wounded a 19-year-old man in a shooting in March 2011. All three shootings took place after midnight in the impoverished and crime-ridden Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods.

The city settled a lawsuit by the Pinex family for about $3.5 million.

The Police Department ruled Farmer’s shooting justified, but then-Superintendent Garry McCarthy later told the Tribune, without identifying Sierra by name, that he considered the case “a big problem” and that the officer involved should not have been on the street. Sierra later admitted that he drank “multiple” beers before he went to work that night, but the city waited more than five hours to give him a breath test, according to a court filing by an attorney for the slain man’s estate.

Meanwhile, IPRA determined in June 2016 — nearly five years after the shooting — that Sierra was unjustified in fatally shooting Farmer. The ruling, however, came nearly a year after Sierra resigned from the Police Department.

In its ruling, IPRA called the dashcam video “critical evidence.”

After viewing the video, Sierra said he fired the last three shots because he saw Farmer move and felt he was still a threat, according to IPRA.

The video shows no such movement, IPRA ruled.

“Rather, the video shows that (Farmer) is lying motionless on the ground, posing no threat,” the ruling said.

IPRA cited alleged discrepancies in Sierra’s accounts of what happened and said the agency would have recommended he be charged with giving a false statement if the officer had not already resigned.

The ruling against an officer in a shooting is a rare one by a widely criticized agency in the midst of upheaval. Of more than 400 shootings by Chicago police since the agency’s inception a decade ago, this marked only the third case at the time in which the agency found that an officer violated the use-of-force policy.

Since IPRA’s current chief administrator, Sharon Fairley, took over the agency in December 2015, five shootings, including Farmer’s, were found to be unjustified uses of force.

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(c)2017 the Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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